National Indian Gaming Association Mourns the Loss of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Elder Helen Jean (Charwood) Bryan Johnson

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April 11, 2022

Washington, D.C. – April 11, 2022 – The National Indian Gaming Association joins the Leech Lake Band in mourning the passing of Ojibwe Elder Helen Jean Bryan Johnson, who passed away on April 5, 2022.

Helen and her husband Russell Bryan, Sr. were the lead plaintiffs in The Bryan v. Itasca County Supreme Court in 1976 case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that a state did not have the right to assess a tax on the property of a Native American living on tribal land absent a specific Congressional grant of authority to do so. The decision recognized that Tribal Nations have civil-regulatory jurisdiction over their Tribal Lands. This Supreme Court decision was used as precedence for the California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Supreme Court case, ultimately leading to the advancement of Indian Gaming.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. said, “We are saddened to hear about her passing. Helen’s leadership played a significant role in the legal proceedings centered around early gaming development.” Adding, “Helen’s legacy lives on in the positive imprint in the foundation and success of our tribal government gaming industry.”

In 2019, Chairman Stevens presented a lifetime achievement to Helen during the National Indian Gaming Association Mid-Year Conference & Expo at the Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT. There, Chairman Stevens shared with Helen, “We have all continued to reap the benefits of your leadership. From my heart, I say thank you.”

Helen Jean (Charwood) Bryan Johnson, age 82, of Squaw Lake, MN, died on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. She was born in Max Township, and she resided in Squaw Lake her whole life.

Helen will forever be missed and remembered by her children, Russell (Margaret) Bryan Jr., Janice Bryan, Larry Bryan, Linda Bryan, Mason Bryan, 17 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild, and three cats.

Helen was preceded in death by; Husbands Russell Bryan, Robert Johnson, Father Walter Charwood, Mother Josephine Charwood, Brothers Max Charwood, Phillip Charwood, Walter Charwood, Sisters Gloria Michaud, Shirley Bebeau, Sons Douglas Bryan Sr., Darwin Bryan, Grandsons Ryan Miettinen, Russell Bryan III, Keith Rogers, and Granddaughter Jeanine White.
She was a head start teacher for 18 years in Squaw Lake. Helen enjoyed going to bingo and going to the casino to play slots. She enjoyed attending pow-wows. Helen served as the S. Lake Local Indian Council member and was on the pow-wow committee. In her spare time, she made quilts and braided rugs. She enjoyed gardening. She loved spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She was laid to rest today at Squaw Lake Fire Hall.

Arrangements were provided by Carroll Funeral Home in Deer River, MN.
Pallbearers caring for Helen were Corey Miettinen, Jordan Miettinen, DeAndre Bryan, Doug Bryan Jr., Zachary Anderson, and Jaydyn Johnson. The alternate pallbearers are Bezhiganakwad Hardy and Christopher Bryan.
Honorary pallbearers were Ernie Stevens, Jr., Janet Kern, Joyce Laporte, Sheila Schuman, Pam Bowstring, David Treuer, Paul Lindom, Tana Morgan-Robinson, Nancy Washington, Archie LaRose, and Darrell Kingbird.