The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe first all-female executive council (left to right) Council Secretary Martha Wemigwans, Sub-Chief Jennifer Wassegijig, Chief Theresa Peters Jackson, Treasurer Gayle Ruhl. Marcella Hadden, Niibing Giizis Photgraphy
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council
elected new council members at the general council meeting on Dec. 7. The meeting took place in the entertainment hall inside Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort on the reservation.
Judge Patrick Shannon administered the Oath of Office to each tribal council member, followed by council members casting their vote for the executive council for the 2021-2023 term.
The election resulted in the first all-female executive council.
Theresa Peters-Jackson was elected as Tribal Chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council. She is the third female to be Tribal Chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
Jackson was first sworn into the council in 2017. Her father, former Sub-Chief Julius Peters, was on and off the council since the ‘70s, says Jackson. She attributes her prior knowledge of the tribe and the history of the council to her father.
“I wanted to be able to help my fellow tribal members,” says Jackson. “I wanted to be able to be part of the business, be part of the expansion and the growth. I wanted to help create programs that would educate our younger generation to be able to sustain our sovereignty and run our businesses in the future.”
Jennifer Vasquez-Wassegijig was elected as Sub-Chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council.
Wassegijig served previous roles on the council before her current position as Sub-Chief. She has been a council member and was the Chaplain Secretary under the Davis administration (previous Tribal Chief) during COVID-19.
“I served on four administrations, and this is the youngest leading council that I've served on,” says Wassegijig. “I look forward to bringing what I have learned to help guide our young ones, to help them be more successful … My position is just a title, so I'm the same as everybody. I don't look down on people. I'm the same as them.”
Martha Wemigwans was elected as Secretary of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council.
Wemigwans has previously served the council under the Davis administration, making Jackson’s administration her second term.
“I am looking forward to having a future for our future generation,” she says. “Our children are following in our footsteps and I want them to know that. Follow your dreams, do what makes you happy in life and never give up. Anything is possible.”
Gayle Ruhl was elected as Treasurer of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council.
Ruhl says she has previously served as the council’s treasurer in 2015 and 2016 and also served as a council member during the last administration (Davis).
Ruhl advocates for the tribe to not have to rely on the consumerism of other companies to supply resources for the community.
“I really believe that the tribe is moving forward in the acquisition of energy, providing alternatives for our members to have consumables like energy, water, natural resources, those types of things are accessible,” says Ruhl. “I want to make sure our infrastructure is sound and stable.”
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council was founded in 1937 by the first elected Tribal Chief, Elijah Elk. The council was created as a result of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Constitution in 1937, which was ratified by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
The council is responsible for over 3,600 tribal members as well as gaming and business operations, which include: Soaring Eagle Gaming Properties, Soaring Eagle Casino, Saganing Eagles Casino and Hotel, Slot Palace, and Mckinsey Economic Development Company.
“They make those decisions that affect not only the members that live here locally in District One, but all tribal members and make those decisions and often have those tough conversations about how to make sure that they are being good stewards of the assets that are available,” says Erik Rodriguez, Interim Public Relations Director of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council.
“We say working together for our future,” says Joseph Sowmick, Interim Public Relations Manager of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council. “And when that comes down to it, that's not only the future of our children, the future of our tribal families, that's the future of all the people that live in the communities that we serve and that includes our non-native people as well.”
Theresa Peters-Jackson says in regards to the executive council being entirely female for the first time in Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Council history, compassion is incorporated more than it ever has before.
“We have hearts for our tribal members, yet maintain the sense of responsibility and a sense of business-minded people, because I know a lot of thinking is that women [only] rule with their heart, and they don't take into account any of the implications or consequences of their decisions at times,” Jackson says.
In the future, Jackson mentions the council would like to expand the convention center at Soaring Eagle Casino as well as change the old tribal operations building into a community recreational center.
This new recreational center would hold community events or allow tribal members to utilize it for events. Jackson says the Council is hoping to include a ceremonial fire pit so tribal members can practice their culture and host sacred fires.
A new academy is expected to open in the spring, available to kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Meanwhile, Jackson mentions an entirely new school that will provide middle school and high schoolers with a credit recovery program.
Currently, the council is looking at moving the tribal college into a better facility before opening in the fall of 2023.
In addition, the council is hoping to restore the Michigan Indian Boarding School in Mt. Pleasant. They had previously sent out a survey to the tribal community, receiving recommendations to restore the boarding school as a museum, a school, or a cultural learning center.
“We are not only providing that quality of life to our tribal members, but that we are looking out for our community and making this a great place to live, to work, and to play in,” says Rodriguez. “And we feel like we have the opportunity as the largest employer in Isabella County to be able to not only create jobs … but to incorporate that into our culture and those traditions that are passed down and again to help people better understand who we are as the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, but also to help people further their education on who the Native American people in this region are.”
For more information about the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe or the new council, visit sagchip.org.
Zipporah Abarca is dedicated to her passion of writing for the public; offering people a platform to share their stories and promote small businesses. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in project management at Central Michigan University where she is also a reporter for CM Life. See more of her work at cm-life.com/staff/zipporah_abarca