Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin says all 3,800 members of the band are a part of an extended family. She says that means they need to do a better job of helping their elders when they reach retirement age.
"A few short decades ago, the work of our people did was seasonal and either paid little or nothing," Benjamin says. "Even when social security came around our people were poor in their old age."
“A few short decades ago, the work of our people did was seasonal and either paid little or nothing. Even when social security came around our people were poor in their old age.Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin
At her annual State of the Band address on the Mille Lacs reservation in central Minnesota, Benjamin told a crowd of 1,000 people that the band has formed a pension plan. It will be funded by casino revenues and payouts to band members will begin when they turn 62 years old.
"In order to fund this pension plan, five percent of net revenue will need to be set aside," Benjamin says. "Pensions will be funded from the interest generated. For those who will retire in the very near future, the first pension payments would be about $1,500."
While those payments will be small in the beginning, Don Wedell, the Mille Lacs band's long-range planner, says if the band continues to fund the pension future generations will see a significant pay out.
"If you compound that $1,500 each year for 50 years that ends up to be a substantial amount of money close to a million dollars," Wedell says.
Wedell says the band will put $5.7 million dollars into the pension fund each year. He says their approach is unique among tribes in the country, who generally put money aside for the young.
"I think many tribes have trust funds that they keep for minor children until they reach age 18 or 21, and this would be a similar thing only it would be extended out until you were 62," Wedell says.
A Mille Lacs Band elder from Hinkley says she's looking forward to the pension. Marie Bengston says many of the band's elders could use the extra cash.
"Their household expenses and maybe get a new car or something different or just help them cause they need help out there," Bengston says.
Bengston is happy her her three children will have something extra to rely on when they reach retirement age.
The pension payments would be in addition to any social security payments and casino profit payments the band's retirees already recieve. In 2005, Mille Lacs Band members each received a check for $5,600 dollars from casino profits.