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Tribal Leader's Casino in a Garage Broke Ground

Fred Dakota wanted more from the US than a promise 'not to kill us'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 18, 2021 3:40 PM CDT
Tribal Leader's Casino in a Garage Broke Ground
Fred Dakota pauses outside federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1997.   (AP Photo/George Gryzenia, File)

(Newser) – Fred Dakota, whose garage casino in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1983 was a milestone for Native American gambling, has died. He was 84. Dakota, a former leader of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, died Monday at his home in Baraga, the AP reports. The cause was not disclosed. Tribal offices were closed Friday, the day of the funeral, along with Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. "It was an honor and a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest leaders in Indian country," tribal President Warren Swartz Jr. said. "Fred impacted not only KBIC, but many tribal communities with his leadership abilities."

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With a single blackjack table, Dakota opened a casino in a two-stall garage in Baraga County on New Year's Eve 1983. A shot of whiskey was 70 cents; better stuff was 20 cents more. "We gave the government vast tracts of land in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota when we signed that treaty in 1854," Dakota told the New York Times in 1984. "And what did we get in return? We got the government to agree not to kill us. Well, now it's time we got something more. Gambling is going to make a lot of Indians rich."

The garage casino led to construction of a larger casino, but decisions by federal courts shut it down. Dakota said he couldn't afford more appeals. By 1987, the US Supreme Court used a California case to ease restrictions on gambling on tribal land, a turning point for Native American casinos. A federal law a year later allowed states to negotiate compacts with tribes. A jury in 1997 convicted Dakota of accepting $127,000 in bribes from a New Jersey slot machine dealer and evading taxes on the money. He claimed the money was an advance for a telephone lottery game. Dakota was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. (Scores of tribal casinos shut down during the pandemic.)

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