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Saginaw Chippewa tribal Chief Fred Cantu Jr., center, red shirt, presides at ribbon cutting at Eagle's Landing Casino at Saganing. MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers

Drums and Sacred Smoke Signal Economic Hope as the Eagle Lands at Saganing

Pinconning Already Seeing Positive Benefits From Eagle's Landing Casino

January 27, 2008       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Milton "Beaver" Pelcher, tribal councilman, links past and present with traditional Chippewa accouterments and a plea to "hold onto our identity as a nation."
(MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers)

The drums and chants of the Great Lakes Alliance singers thump through the Eagle's Landing Casino at Saganing.

The crowd stands patiently on the terrazzo floor decorated with the Saginaw Chippewa crest in the lobby.

Multi-colored, whirring slot machines tinkle alluring sounds through the lodge-style building braced with massive red pine beams from Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Chippewa tribal members of the Great Lakes Alliance, including Steve Pego, red shirt, center, sing and beat the drum during ceremonies at the grand opening of the new Saganing Eagle's Landing Casino.
(MyBayCity Photo by Dave Rogers)

Smoke curls up from the pipe ceremony as eight Chippewa puff semaa (a scented tobacco mixture) in turn, whirl the pipe around and hand it to the next celebrant.

As dozens of local officials and other onlookers watch and listen to the Indian rituals, casino patrons, many of them white-topped senior citizens, push by, intent only on getting to the gaming floor.

Steve Pego of the 7th Generation Chippewa group intones an interpretation of the pipe ceremony: "We love our Creator so much he gave us semaa for more direct communication with him."

As the pipe is passed four times around, Pego continues: "The smoke goes up to the Creator for the safety of all who visit this new building on this little rez."

"Yay-ay-ah, yay-ay-yah," the singers chant. "He knows and listens to us when we are talking," says Pego, motioning skyward through the smoke.

Military veterans, members of the Anishinabe Ogitchedaw Veteran and Warrior Society, in colorful yellow shirts and red berets, carry in the American flag and eagle staff as the flag song resounds.

"Bringing in colors of proud nations," Peego says as the veterans begin to dance, a short hop move reminiscent of the double-time cadence trot of soldiers in training. "Yay-ay-ah, yay-ay-yah" -- the chant reverberates through the lodge.

More casino patrons rush into the casino, oblivious to the sacred rituals of the Chippewa tribe being performed as part of the grand opening of the new casino.

Master of ceremonies Joe Sowmick and Frank Cloutier, both public relations officials of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, direct traffic, introduce speakers and move the event along in orderly fashion.

Gail George, tribal chaplain, blesses "workers, families and anyone who has traveled a long way," and gives a traditional Christian invocation.

"I'm pleased to inform you, the eagle has landed," says Fred Cantu, tribal chief, who invokes the biblical "Paul's Letter to the Phillipians" in his comments.

He recalls tribal elders like Chief Pete Otto and Lorna Call "who talked about what we needed to do at Saganing many years ago."

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Milton "Beaver" Pelcher, tribal councilman, notes that the tribe is working to "hold onto our identity as a nation through prayer and Christianity," stressing that some of the people continue to practice the old ways of "tobacco, pipe and song."

"We always give a prayer for non-nations as we are a nation within a nation," says Pelcher, noting that the tribe "has hung onto the land since the 1800s."

It was 1855, to be exact, when the final federal treaty gave six townships in Isabella County and two townships in Arenac County as settlement for six million acres from Kalamazoo to Alpena ceded in the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819.

"Now, the Chippewa tribe is the largest employer in Isabella County," said Chief Cantu proudly, adding: "We are once again moving forward to provide economic development and jobs for the surrounding area."

Over at the tribal community center, Dick Byrne, Pinconning city manager and county commissioner, comments on reports that some retail enterprises have already seen a doubling of business since the casino opened quietly on New Year's Eve.

Sharon Stalsberg, Pinconning Township supervisor, said a hotel planned at the intersection of Pinconning Road and I-75 awaits a sewer for which bids will be taken in March.

The buzz is all about the new people, and their dollars, the casino is drawing to the Pinconning-Standish area.

In walks a lady who says she has bypassed the Detroit casinos to come north and try her luck at Saganing. "This is wonderful! I had no idea!" she exclaims.

Chief Cantu's words from the grand opening are recalled: "The tribe knows this facility will be the jewel of the sunrise side of the state."###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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