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Longtime White Earth tribal chairman 'Chip' Wadena dies

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Darrell "Chip" Wadena, who served as chairman of the White Earth Ojibwe tribe in northwestern Minnesota for 20 years, died Tuesday at age 75.

Forum News Service reports Wadena led the tribal government until 1996, when he was convicted of embezzlement and other corruption charges. The conviction also involved money laundering and rigging bids for the construction of Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen. Forum News says Wadena served a 33-month prison term.

Erma Vizenor led a group of activists that worked to oust Wadena. Vizenor was elected tribal chair in 1996 and continues to hold that post.

Commenting on Wadena's death, Vizenor tells the Star Tribune "I want people to remember him for the good he has done. Serving in tribal office is not an easy job."

The Star Tribune says Wadena earned a reputation for dealing effectively with state and federal officials to bring housing and health care to reservations and took part in White House meetings with Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

His daughter, Ann Brown, tells the newspaper that Wadena had been treated for a long illness before his death.

Wadena's downfall was the subject of a 1999 documentary, "Super Chief," by filmmaker Nick Kurzon.

But even after his conviction by a federal jury in St. Paul, Wadena remained popular on the White Earth reservation.

MPR News reported in 2004 on his bid to regain the tribal chairmanship. Forum News reports Wadena won a majority of the votes cast on the reservation that year, but absentee ballots from tribal members who live elsewhere allowed Vizenor to be re-elected. The following year the tribe amended its constitution to prohibit convicted felons from holding office.

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