Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Opens Casino, Hotel and Conference Center

Indian Country Today, By Staff Reporter

RED LAKE, Minnesota – The  Red Lake Band of Ojibwe opened a new casino, hotel and conference center on the  reservation just north of Bemidji Jan. 21. Grand opening events were

Seven Clans Red Lake Casino, Red Lake, Minnesota
Seven Clans Red Lake Casino, Red Lake, Minnesota

held Jan.  21 through 23.

This is the second casino in the state (after Upper Sioux), and one of the few  in the nation, to be built with all Indian funds. Instead of going to a  non-Indian banker for construction loans, the Red Lake Band borrowed money from  the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, which runs Mystic Lake Casio.

This is Minnesota’s first inter-tribal loan, with Dakota loaning to Ojibwe, and  it highlights progress tribes are making toward self-sufficiency that allows  Indian communities to be more equal partners in local and regional economic  development. The $31 million loan, in addition to funding the hotel, casino and  conference center, has also helped expand the law enforcement center, start a  propane business to power the casino and tribal homes, and build a forestry  greenhouse. The hotel and casino will be run by the Red Lake Band, with no  non-Indian management company in charge of the operation and taking a large  management fee, as was often the case in the earlier days of Indian gaming.

The Seven  Clans Casino was one of the few  major construction projects in northern Minnesota in the depths of a terrible  economic recession, creating more than 100 construction jobs, about half held  by tribal members and half by people from across Minnesota. In addition, the  complex is bringing 100 new full-time and part-time jobs to one of the poorest  areas in Minnesota, with most of those jobs held by tribal members. Since a  “soft opening” just before Christmas, the restaurant and conference center are  already being patronized more than projected, with new visitors coming from the  region surrounding the reservation, allowing more people to be hired to meet  the demand.

As part of ongoing economic development, as required by the tribe, contractors  working on the project are helping Indian workers learn construction trades and  professions, and some Indian workers are staying with the contractors on  projects off the reservation. The general contractor and architectural firm –  Woodstone Builders of Minneapolis and DSGW Architects of Duluth – led the way,  each hiring Indian people to oversee the project.

The Red Lake Band of Ojibwe is providing the area with a stunning new  attraction for tourists, joining the Garrison giant walleye statue and nearby  Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues as a Minnesota icon – a  swooping eagle sculpture with a 30-foot wingspan that flies in front of the  casino and that Minnesotans are already taking photographs in front of.

The new hotel will have 40 rooms, with master suites including balconies,  fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.

The hotel has a swimming pool carved in the shape of Upper and Lower Red Lake.  The restaurant will seat 75, and, in good weather, will seat 25 more on an  outdoor patio, serving Red Lake walleye and a full menu. The event center will  seat between 350 and 800 people, depending on the seating configuration. The  gaming hall has 300 slot machines, four blackjack tables and two poker tables.  The hotel and restaurant are separate from the gaming floor, so people wanting  to come only for recreation or conventions don’t have to pass through the  gaming area, as is the case in most Las Vegas casino hotels.

The design of the complex draws on Red Lake culture. Wood paneling, field  stone, and images of a rippled blue lake reflect themes of the area. Woodland  floral patterns permeate the carpeting throughout, while rooms are named for  the seven major clans of Red Lake. Seven Clans Casino and Hotel will add hotel  and conference space to the Bemidji area, which may help the region attract and  serve more visitors and conventions. Bemidji is building a new regional events  center that will attract events and conferences to north-central Minnesota, and  the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe believe their new casino and hotel can work in  harmony with Bemidji’s hospitality offerings.

“This will be another link to the entertainment hub of Bemidji,” said Red Lake  Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr.

In addition, Ojibwe people from the Twin Cities and Duluth visiting their home  reservation and families will have additional options for overnight stays. The  motel nearest to Red Lake is now 30 minutes away. Reservation tribal members,  and off reservation members from Bemidji, Duluth and the Twin Cities, were all  part of the process to build. That included taking part of deciding whether to  borrow the money to build the casino and hotel and part of deciding on the  design – receiving briefings on the project and voting overwhelmingly in favor  of it.

Indian gaming is controversial – it will come under attack again in the  Minnesota Legislature this session as former senate minority leader Dick Day  and others look to fund a Vikings stadium with gaming revenue. What is  undeniable is that Indian gaming has been an engine of economic development for  tribes – where nothing else has worked in two centuries. And now, in addition  to schools and water treatment plants being built with gaming revenue on  reservations, careers and businesses are being developed by Indian people as  well.

The new development is inviting Minnesota, Dakota and Canadian tourists to  visit the reservation and the Seven Clans casino and hotel. Where once  non-Indians were not always welcome or comfortable traveling on the Red Lake  reservation, a broader integration of Indian and non-Indian communities is  shown by the new casino and hotel and by the simple fact that 80 businesses in  Bemidji now include bi-lingual signage in Ojibwe and English in recognition of  their neighbors.

“This project shows how tribes can work together to capitalize and grow our own  businesses, increasing employment and opportunity on the reservations and in  the surrounding communities,” Jourdain said. “It’s all about economic  development.”