Fred Dakota remembered

In a June 8, 2006, file photo, Fred Dakota looks at the garage in Zeba where he started the first tribal casino in 1983, earning the nickname, “The father of Indian gaming.” (Courtesy photo)

BARAGA — Keweenaw Bay Indian Community offices were closed Friday to commemorate the late Fred Dakota, a former president and known as the “father of Indian gaming.”

Dakota died unexpectedly at his home Monday. In a release, the KBIC described Dakota as a “true visionary” who helped guide the development and evolution of the KBIC. He served on the tribal council for 33 years between 1968 and 2016 — 20 of those as chairman.

“It was an honor and a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest leaders in Indian Country,” Tribal President Warren “Chris” Swartz Jr. said in a statement. “Fred impacted not only KBIC, but many tribal communities with his leadership abilities. I, for one, am grateful for what he has done for me personally and professionally. I will miss his visits and his leadership qualities.”

The KBIC remembered Dakota for his willingness to take risks and his firm beliefs in tribal sovereignty.

“He made sure that KBIC was in the forefront from everything to treaty rights, to negotiations with other sovereigns, to self-governance,” the KBIC said in a statement.

The tribe remembered his mentorship as well as his service to the country in the U.S. Marine Corps. Baraga County veterans provided graveside military honors during his funeral Friday.

The billion-dollar Indian gaming industry can also be traced back to the small casino Dakota opened out of a two-car garage in Zeba in 1983.

Though court rulings went against him, he paved the way for the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which allowed tribes to negotiate compacts with states to open casinos.

“The other tribes had been watching me and they said, ‘We’re going to open up,'” he said in a 2006 Daily Mining Gazette interview. “The (government) tried to stop them too and that was the beginning.”

Tribal offices were closed Friday, as was the campus of Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. The Ojibwa Casino locations in Baraga and Marquette also closed between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday.


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