MARQUETTE - A Keweenaw Bay Indian Community official said the tribe will "rise above" racially charged comments made recently by a Krist Oil official, who recently called the Indians thieves, convicted felons and tax evaders.
The tribe plans to open a state sales tax-free gas station in Marquette Township on the old Los Tres Amigos restaurant property, located along U.S. Highway 41. Area gas station owners are concerned about having to compete with the tribal filling station, which could offer gas for 15 to 25 cents cheaper than stations paying sales tax.
In a June 14 article in The Mining Journal titled "Fueling Retaliation," Krist Oil Vice President Krist Atanasoff detailed reasons behind a decision made by several area gas stations to stop selling the newspaper in their stores. Atanasoff, whose company owns several gas stations that pulled the Journal's racks, lashed out at the newspaper and the KBIC.
"We're not going to do business with your company anymore because all you can say is bad things about us," Atanasoff said. "You're supporting these Indians. They're thieves, they're convicted felons and they're tax evaders."
In response, KBIC Economic Developer Gregg Nominelli said the tribe will continue its efforts to work with officials in Marquette Township in a positive way.
"The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribe chooses to rise above the attacks made upon the Community from a small group of opponents to the gas station," Nominelli said. "The leadership of the KBIC will continue to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with the residents and elected officials of Marquette County in a positive and respectful manner."
Krist Oil operates 67 locations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, including 17 CITGO gas stations within The Mining Journal's distribution area.
The CITGO corporation has also offered a response to Atanasoff's comments.
"We are disappointed with this independent distributor's opinions, and we certainly do not share them. We can assure you that his words are not representative of CITGO, our values, and the many other local CITGO owners throughout the country," a CITGO official said in an email. "CITGO works tirelessly to ensure that the independent distributors that carry our brand appropriately and effectively serve all members of the communities in which they operate."
CITGO said the company has provided assistance to tribal communities in Michigan since 2006 through the CITGO Heating Oil Program. In 2011, CITGO provided 89,400 gallons of heating oil to 893 Michigan tribal community households of the Keweenaw Bay Tribe, the Nottawasepi Huron Band and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Nationwide, the CITGO Heating Oil Program serves 250 tribal communities.
Atanasoff has since attempted to clarify his controversial comments with a Letter to the Editor published Wednesday in The Mining Journal.
"I regret that the comments attributed to me in the June 14 article 'Fueling Retaliation,' were wrongly applied to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as a whole, or any other native Americans. My comments were directed to one individual," Atanasoff wrote.
A call for comment to Atanasoff asking who the "one individual" may be was not returned by press time today.
The KBIC is set to apply to put the Marquette Township gas station property into trust by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. If the application is approved, the gas station property would be recognized as part of the KBIC and thus part of a sovereign entity that would not be subject to some taxes, including the Michigan sales and use tax.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.