Last update: November 24, 2006 – 10:11 PM
Chippewa Tribe accepts free heating oil from Citgo
The tribe said it would be foolish to refuse the offer from the Venezuelan-owned firm despite political controversy.
Archie Ingersoll, Associated Press
When the Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. approached the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe with a gift of about $1.7 million in heating assistance, members of the tribe's six bands raised a collective eyebrow.
"There are a lot of people who offer things to Indians," said Winona LaDuke, a member of the White Earth Band and director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project. "I see a lot of snake oil salesmen coming to Indian country."
But the deal proved genuine: Texas-based Citgo dispensed millions of gallons of heating oil last year to roughly 181,000 American households in need in the Northeast and is expanding the program this winter, according to the company's website. LaDuke now is a facilitator for Citgo's program in Minnesota.
Still, there were the political connotations of accepting fuel from a firm owned by Venezuela's state oil company. The firm has a direct link to President Hugo Chavez, who famously called President Bush "the devil" in September during a speech at the United Nations.
Citgo's program, called "From the Venezuelan Heart to the U.S. Hearths," has been widely viewed as an effort by Chavez to embarrass the U.S. government. A few native villages in Alaska recently rejected Citgo's offer.
Wayne Bohn, an attorney for the Leech Lake Band, said the politics of the deal were "hotly debated," but the tribe didn't see the point in rejecting the offer.
"To us, it would be a foolish move. We're not a wealthy tribe," Bohn said. "We could make a political statement, but making a political statement while your people freeze is not very wise."
Citgo will donate a lump sum to each of the six bands based on how many members are eligible for state heating assistance. Those band members will receive direct credits on their heating bills through Citgo's program, said Gary Frazer, the tribe's executive director.
Citgo has allotted 250 gallons of heating oil or the equivalent for each household. With Citgo figuring that each gallon is worth $2.25, the donation is $562.50 per household, about a 40 percent discount on most winter heating bills for homes on Chippewa reservations. The program runs from Nov. 15 until March 15.
Based on last year's state heating-assistance rolls, the tribe estimates that more than 2,700 households will be eligible for aid. Tribal day-care facilities for children and the elderly will also get a discount on heating fuel.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe -- an umbrella group that includes Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth bands -- plans to distribute money to the bands in the coming weeks.