Mille Lacs County files lawsuit over Reservation dispute

In an effort to settle with finality a long-brewing dispute with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe over the existence and extent of what constitutes the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, Mille Lacs County filed suit in Federal District Court “...seeking a declaratory judgment that the exterior boundaries of the 1855 Mille Lacs Indian Reservation were disestablished/diminished by specific federal treaties and statutes...”

In its brief filed with the Court on February 20, 2002, the County lays out in great detail several reasons why the issue needs to be resolved by the Court. The County states that the unsettled dispute has caused increased divisiveness, as well as social and economic unrest in the area, in addition to problems with law enforcement, zoning, and environmental jurisdiction the County faces in dealing with the Mille Lacs Band.
Mille Lacs County bases its claim on three main arguments. First and foremost are a 1912 Court of

Claims proceeding and a 1913 United States Supreme Court case. In both instances the Mille Lacs Band repeatedly told the Court their reservation had been relinquished, sold, and extinguished. The Courts acknowledged that the band had in fact relinquished their reservation and all rights of occupancy.

The second basis for their claim cites various federal treaties and statutes, including the Treaty of 1863, the Treaty of 1864, a Congressional Act of January 14, 1889 and a Congressional Act of May 27, 1902. The language in the above-mentioned examples spells out clearly how the Mille Lacs Band sold their reservation and all rights of occupancy.

The final argument upon which the County relies is the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 (ICCA). This Act of Congress provided a means for Indian Tribes to bring their grievances before the Court and, in exchange, they were forever barred from bringing those same claims again. In addition, if claims were not brought within the allotted time frame, they too would be forever barred. For a thorough explanation of the ICCA refer to” 50 Years Past The Deadline... Why are Indian Tribes still suing over ancient treaties?” in the October 2001 issue of the PERM Newsletter. Or visit the PERM web site at and refer to the articles section.

According to PERM board member Mark Rotz, “This is great news for the citizens of Mille Lacs County, and really, everyone across the country. The Mille Lacs County brief spells out how the Band is attempting to assert jurisdiction over non-band members on land within the former Reservation boundaries through their environmental protection code and natural resource protection code. Persons living or visiting the Mille Lacs Lake area should not be made subject to an unaccountable government in which they have no voice or civil rights ”

PERM sees a great opportunity to advance the Indian Claims Commission argument again. Pat Doroff, Chairman of PERM said, “We are pleased the County chose to include the ICCA as one of its reasons for barring the attempts by the Mille Lacs Band to resurrect a lawfully disestablished reservation. It is likely that PERM will file briefs in support of the County which focus on the ICCA. It is entirely possible that this case could provide the basis for an attempt to reverse the outcome of the 1837 Treaty lawsuit if the courts uphold the ICCA argument! Remember, this is an important argument that was not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1837 case, despite PERM’s efforts to bring it before the Court. You can bet we’ll do whatever we can to help the County win on this point.”

PERM also hopes the State of Minnesota and other Minnesota counties, especially those with disestablished reservations, will join in support of Mille Lacs County. “We expect that tribes from all across the nation will be joining this fight in support of the Mille Lacs Band. There may be support for the County from other States, and out-of-state county governments at some point in the lawsuit, but it is imperative that Minnesota counties and the State of Minnesota support Mille Lacs County on this. How can our Governor and Attorney General stand by the wayside on an issue with such sweeping Constitutional, economic and jurisdictional importance?” asked Rotz.