CASHING IN: Exclusive look at future Four Winds South Bend

Two framed photos lined the window sill of Teri Barber’s home, as snow began to fall outside the window panes; one photo showed her Pokagon mother, the other showed her adoptive parents from Elkhart.

“I had a very happy family life with them,” Barber said of her adoptive parents. “I was always curious about my heritage.”

At 5, a family from Elkhart adopted Teri. Like many adopted children, Barber’s journey to find her biological parents began much later in life.

It wasn’t until 1999, when she was in her 40s and both adopted parents had passed away, that she began to search for her birth family. She discovered she had two brothers in Elkhart, and from there, she was able to connect her lineage to a Pokagon family still living on the Dowagiac reservation.

She soon learned she was one of 13 in her Pokagon family.

“It put a lot of the pieces to the puzzle together,” said Barber. “Answered a lot of questions for me that I have been curious about and wondered about throughout my lifetime.”

Barber now lives on the Dowagiac reservation, and worked years for Mno Bmadsen, an economic development branch of the Pokagon Band which provides jobs to many of its citizens. But, now partially retired, Barber is considering a move to the South Bend tribal village set to open in 2018.

“In a way, Indiana is home to me because I lived there for so many years,” she said.

Barber’s interest in relocating to the South Bend property isn’t lost on other tribal citizens. Right now, the tribe is building six units to accommodate tribal families; but under the agreement with the federal government, they’re allowed to build up to 44.

Dowagiac’s tribal village, health facilities, community center and fitness complex will be similar in appearance to the South Bend property. While designs and actual space may differ, they will incorporate environmentally sustainable materials and may use solar panels to power community facilities.

The tribal village will likely be smaller in size than Dowagiac, the tribe’s main headquarters, but similar in size to Hartford. The casino will be larger than Dowagiac’s but not as large as Four Winds New Buffalo.

The South Bend property will also have a fitness center; health is a cornerstone as the tribe continues proactive efforts to increase its average life expectancy. Health officials said the average Pokagon citizen only lives 60 years and a few months.

That’s lower than the average life expectancy of an American, at 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Building a new $400 million casino and tribal village isn’t just filling a need for the Pokagon people, according to Chairman John Warren, it’s rebuilding their identity in a place they used to call home.

“First time there’s Indian country in the land of Indians, Indiana, in over 200 years,” said Chairman Warren. “Now we have just a small stake back to provide for our people.”

The Environmental Impact Study released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs revealed that of the 5,191 Pokagon citizens, 592 live in Indiana. About 61% of those live within 50 miles of the South Bend property.

“We wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a need,” said Warren. “We just didn’t pick that spot by accident.”

Warren said there have been long-time barriers like transportation issues for Pokagon members. But Warren said the tribe’s philosophy has always been to have a friendship with the surrounding community, like South Bend.

“Our citizens live in those communities,” said Warren. “Once that community prospers, so do our citizens along with the others, the non-tribal [people].”

‘The right thing to do’

When the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians announced its “intergovernmental agreement” with the City of South Bend, it agreed to donate $5 million to various local community organizations. The tribe also agreed to donate two percent of net win to the City of South Bend.

Those proceeds will be divided into the city’s general fund and the redevelopment commission. The agreement stated that proceeds and donations will begin 12 months after operations begin, which are set to start in early 2018.

But prior to the agreement with the Pokagon band, the land plots taken into federal trust generated $25,570.15 from 2016 taxes, according to records from the treasurer's office. In the meantime, the land in federal trust won't generate any taxes to South Bend until 2019.

Communities who have already cashed in on similar agreements with the Pokagon band, averaged $1.9 million to their local communities in 2015.

Those communities include New Buffalo, Hartford and Dowagiac, with New Buffalo bringing in the most proceeds at $4.4 million.

“Most local and state compacts are made to off-set costs that would impose a burden on a local community,” said Warren. “So that’s why most tribes put that agreement into place.”

The tribe will also pay taxes on a few properties that weren’t taken into federal trust but will be used as part of their development. The tribe itself owns those select properties.

Warren described the property as a “catalyst” for the tribe to provide health, community-oriented, and a variety of services to its citizens. Most of the citizens who live in Indiana, travel to Dowagiac for them.

“Each area has a certain characteristic to it,” said Warren. “But as a whole, we have the same goal in mind: work here, play here and live here.”

See the second part to this story: Building a Pokagon tribal court and police force

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