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'Chip' Wadena, former White Earth chairman, dies at 75

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

FARGO -- Former longtime White Earth Tribal chairman Darrell "Chip" Wadena died Tuesday, family told tribal officials. He was 75.

Wadena was chairman of the White Earth band in northern Minnesota for 20 years before his defeat at the polls in 1996.

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That same year he was convicted of 15 federal charges and went on to serve a 33-month prison term for embezzlement, money laundering and rigging construction bids for the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

Erma Vizenor, who led the group of activists who ousted Wadena, now serves as White Earth’s tribal chairwoman.

Despite the conviction, Wadena maintained a good reputation on the reservation, where he captured more votes than Vizenor in the 2004 election.

Vizenor still won after capturing an overwhelming majority of absentee votes. Wadena contested the results, but a judge eventually upheld them.

Former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe remembered Wadena as a good friend who “made a mistake,” but otherwise did good things for the White Earth band.

Moe said it was because Wadena was so personable that he maintained a good reputation on the reservation.

“He was smart and he was smart politically,” Moe said. “He was a good politician. He paid attention to what the White Earth people wanted and tried to respond.”

Wadena had been battling an illness leading up to his death, Moe said.

Wadena was also placed on probation in 2006 for five years and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty to a federal charge that involved laundering titles of salvaged cars through licensing offices in White Earth and Leech Lake.

Wadena filed candidacy papers in 2008 in an attempt to get his old job back, but the Tribal Council did not certify him as a candidate based on his criminal history.

In 2005, Minnesota’s Chippewa Tribe changed its constitution and barred convicted felons and anyone convicted of taking tribal funds from holding office.

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