Counting Indians

FOR YEARS NOW, members of the American Indian Firefighters' Association and of a court-ordered steering committee have claimed there's something foul in the way Native American slots have been filled on the Minneapolis Fire Department. A 25-year-old legal ruling requires the MFD to hire a number of Native American firefighters, but critics say the tribal credentials of applicants claiming to be Native Americans have not been properly certified, creating the potential for widespread fraud by opportunistic white job-seekers.

The city has traditionally claimed there is no such problem, but AIFA members and steering committee chair Ron Edwards want to see the proof. So at a press conference and protest held by the AIFA at City Hall last month, they sought and received Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's assurance that Edwards and other interested parties would be given access to the city's certification files.

Nearly a month later, however, all that Edwards and Legal Aid attorney Rick Macpherson have received are increasingly breathless claims that the information will be handed over soon. On Monday, Macpherson said he got a call from Steve Nutting of the Minneapolis Civil Service Department, saying that the information had finally been collected and sent to the mayor's office, and that the attorney should get it "in a day or two."

But in a remarkable letter to Macpherson dated February 29, assistant city attorney Joseph Labat--who did not return City Pages' calls on deadline--claimed that the city ordinance pertaining to the certification process "has no binding effect on personnel matters." Edwards and members of the AIFA are convinced that the city's position represents an attempted legal end-run around a history of shoddy compliance with certification requirements. On Tuesday, Sayles Belton aide Pierre Willette maintained that Edwards and Macpherson had "an absolute right" to review the certification files but added that "I don't know how easy it is to put together."

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