Darrell "Chip" Wadena built a community center, a clinic and casino. He was also convicted of bid rigging, money laundering and stealing from his own people.
The former White Earth tribal chairman and self-proclaimed "Super Chief" left a complicated history behind when he died Tuesday at 75. He'd served as chairman of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe for 20 years starting in 1976, at the same time leading the larger Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
"He did a lot of good things and some not so good things," said long-time friend, co-worker and occasional opponent Eugene "Bugger" McArthur.
Wadena, he said, got a lot right, including the Shooting Star Casino, which still brings a lot of money to the tribe. Somewhere along the line, though, McArthur said the power got to Chip.
In the mid 1990s a few tribal leaders including Wadena were the subject of a federal investigation. McArthur testified at the trial.
In 1996, Wadena was convicted of bid rigging and money laundering. He served two and a half years in federal prison.
• 2004 Archive: Chip Wadena seeks comeback, despite criminal record
"There are a lot of people out there that are going to say he was a hateful person," McArthur said, "but there are other leaders at White Earth that are a heck of a lot more vindictive than he was. At the end of the day he did care about his people."
At the time of his death, Wadena had been out of office for nearly as long as he ran the reservation.
In 2004, he attempted a comeback and ran for tribal chair despite his criminal record. He was beaten by current Chair Erma Vizenor. Vizenor did not return calls for comment.
McArthur now works as director of development at Red Lake Nation College but decades ago he held positions in White Earth government and worked with Wadena.
He recounted a day eight years ago, when he took over as general manager of Shooting Star and Wadena came up from his job serving drinks at the casino bingo hall to congratulate him on his new job.
"Time heals a lot of wounds," McArthur said.