Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa: First Woman Chairwoman
Diver, Fond du Lac’s first woman chair, is prepared for the job. Most recently she served as the director of special projects for the Fond du Lac Reservation and before that, she was the executive director of the YWCA in Duluth. The list of the positions she has held and the boards she has served on is impressive and includes: Arrowhead Welfare Reform Partnership, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, American Indian Community Housing Organization, Duluth Community Action Program, Governor's Workforce Development Council, and the Blandin Foundation.
One significant opportunity, and possibly the event that prepared Diver most for her new position, was her participation as a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. There she received the Master in Public Administration degree in 2003. As a student in the Harvard American Indian Economic Development Project, she studied best practices in governance and economic development in Indian Country.
As Fond du Lac’s chair, Diver serves on the reservation business committee, often called the tribal council, along with five other members. Her plan is to work with the other tribal council members to bring those “best practices” to the tribe. There may be changes in the coming months. “Fond du Lac has experienced exponential growth in the last 20 years, and for the most part, the community just hung on for the ride.”
Fond du Lac’s businesses have flourished, unlike some sovereign nations around the world. “We have many tribal enterprises and their success may be due to our strong sense of culture and community,” Diver said. When one business does well, everyone gains. The largest employer in Carlton County, the tribe owns the Black Bear Casino, the Fond du Luth Casino in Duluth, a construction company, a propane company, a gas station, a convenience store, a hotel, and a golf course.
“Fond du Lac is looking at a $119 million expansion to Black Bear
Casino,” Diver said. “We’re tearing down and re-building
the casino, adding a convention center and a family friendly hotel.”
It’s a huge undertaking but it promises to bring more employment
and revenue to the tribe.
The growth has brought more families back to the area. “We’ve done well as a tribal nation and now it’s time to do long-range strategic planning for the future,” Diver said. More people, more businesses, and more job opportunities means that the tribe needs to achieve a higher level of governance. “We can’t govern the same way we did in 1985,” said Diver. “The tribe needs transparency, accountability, openness, community awareness, clear policies, and a strong structure.”
Education and Housing
Workforce development is important to Diver. “The tribe is committed to hiring our own members to work in our businesses,” Diver said. Education is a strong community value at Fond du Lac. “I’m proud of our schools,” she said. Fond du Lac cares for and educates its children from birth to the second year of college and they do a lot with little money. “The money per student is less than provided for federal inmates,” Diver said. “Academic success means workforce success.”
The tribe’s role is to fill gaps in services. Housing is a constant problem because there are over 200 families on waiting lists. “We are trying to look at housing in a comprehensive way: from helping the homeless to helping people buy their first home,” said Diver.
Karen Diver has a passion for Fond du Lac, possibly because she left Minnesota for many years. Her parents, both tribe members, moved in 1960 on the relocation program, and Diver was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. A tribal scholarship to UMD brought her, and her daughter, Rochelle, back.
Life was not easy at UMD. Diver remembers taking three busses in the morning to get her daughter to daycare and herself to class. There were late nights and lonely days, living half a country away from her parents.
Some of Diver’s dedication to advocacy for others is due to her own situation. She knows what it’s like to rely on welfare and how hard it is to achieve success when you don’t have resources.
Diver is the only Native woman and one of only three Native Americans
to graduate from UMD’s Labovitz School of Business & Economics.
It doesn’t surprise Diver that she is working at Fond du Lac.
It was always her long-term plan to provide leadership for the tribe.
As she continued through her career, she garnered the experience that
has prepared her for the role as Fond du Lac Tribal Chair: in community
development, workforce development, organizational management, women's
issues, culturally competent programming, and financial literacy.
Karen Diver, Employment and Community Service
— written by Cheryl Reitan with assistance from Communication Intern Jenna Hagen
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