Minnesota is known for its bitterly cold winters, and in the homes of many low income people in the state, paying for adequate heat is a major concern. This winter the six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe got some unexpected assistance in paying their heating bills. Where did this assistance come from? Venezuela!
Through CITGO, the U.S. gas station chain and petroleum products distribution company that is wholly owned by the Venezuelan state oil company, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been distributing discounted heating oil to low income neighborhoods and communities across America. The heating oil is offered at a 40% discount from the typical delivery price. The project is part of an effort to help the working poor in the U.S., and to embarrass the Bush administration for its lack of social programs aimed at the poor.
This winter Chavez’s discounted heating oil program will distribute more than 100 million gallons to more than 400,000 homes. These homes are located in 16 states, include 163 Native American tribes and communities. This winter, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was among the entities selected for assistance.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is an alliance between the following 6 Ojibwe bands: the Fond du Lac Band, the Grand Portage Band, the Leech Lake Band, the Mille Lacs Band, and the White Earth Band. The tribe as a whole is receiving $1.7 million dollars worth of heating oil, which breaks down to roughly $500 a household for qualifying families.
Despite recent economic growth on some of the Ojibwe reservations as a result of the opening of casinos, the great majority of tribal members still live in extreme poverty, often in remote parts of the state where jobs are very scarce.
Right wing political pressure was placed on some of the tribal councils not to accept the CITGO heating oil because of the very public row between Hugo Chavez and President Bush at the United Nations, but in the end it was economic decision to accept the heating oil assistance.
“Why not?” said Gary Frazer, a leader of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. “It’s helping low-income people. We would have accepted it from all of the oil companies if they would’ve offered.” To date, of course, no U.S. owned oil company has offered.
[the article above was written by Adam Ritscher]