Hundreds of tribal members met in Mahnomen Thursday for the annual report on the state of the White Earth Nation.
Chairwoman Erma Vizenor says a tribal casino in the Twin Cities remains a cornerstone of the tribe's economic future.
Tribal members gathered around tables in an auditorium at the Shooting Star Casino. The event began with military honor guards and traditional songs.
Vizenor told tribal members White Earth has made great advancements in the past year. There are more police officers, a new school and improved housing because of millions of dollars in federal grants.
Vizenor said her goal is a diversified economy that brings jobs and investment to the reservation. But she said basic infrastructure must be built first.
"Public safety, an independent court system, education and training, roads and transportation, housing, fire protection, [are] all necessary for economic development, industry, entrepreneurship and jobs to thrive," she said.
Vizenor said building infrastructure requires revenue. The White Earth casino in Mahnomen typically generates about $7 million to $8 million to the tribal budget each year.
"Nothing that I know starts without capital. Which is money. And White Earth needs money," Vizenor said. "We can develop all the models, plans and structures, but without capital we do not go far."
Vizenor said White Earth is prepared to borrow $700 million to build a casino and hotel in the Twin Cities, if the deal can be pushed through the Legislature. Vizenor announced the proposal last month. The partnership with the state could help fund a new Vikings stadium with a 50 -50 split of casino profits.
She acknowledged the metro casino plan faces strong opposition, but said the stakes are too high to give up on the idea.
"Are we going to sit up here in Mahnomen, Minnesota and in White Earth in our tribal council offices and do nothing and get by with what we have? I say no," she said.
White Earth also lobbied unsuccessfully for a metro casino in 2005.
Vizenor told assembled tribal members if the casino doesn't happen this year, it's not meant to be. But she said she will give it the best shot she can, because revenue from a metro casino would mean the difference between economic night and day for the impoverished tribe.