Cause for Concern about Mille Lacs Reservation

Mille Lacs County has filed a lawsuit asking the court to affirm that the 1855 reservation does not exist and that the communities of Isle, Wahkon, and Onamia and the townships of Isle Harbor, South Harbor and Kathio are not “Indian Country.”

The lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase. Both the County and the Band are taking depositions and preparing their cases. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in Federal District Court in June 2003. Mille Lacs County Commissioner, Frank Courteau, of Onamia, MN, said he was pleased with how the case is shaping up. He was very grateful for the support shown by PERM and the Mille Lacs County Tea Party regarding the lawsuit.

The following is a summary of eight key points that you should know about this important issue. Then each point is explained in greater detail.

Prepared by the Mille Lacs County Tea Party, an ad hoc committee of the Lake Mille Lacs Association, P.O. Box 62, Wahkon, MN 56386

You Should Know:

1. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is systematically setting out to gain control of all property, people, land and water outside their present trust land area, and within their former 1855 reservation lands.

2. The Mille Lacs Band is out to get control of ALL of Lake Mille Lacs.

3. In law and fact, the 1855 reservation does not exist. In 1913 the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the Mille Lacs Reservation had been relinquished: “The commission, the Sec. Of the Interior, and the President, in seeking, obtaining and approving the relinquishment of that reservation, all treated it as within the purview of the act, and the Mille Lacs did the same”.

4. Your quality of life may be drastically changed if the Band prevails.

5. The Band is using the cost of the County’s lawsuit as a scare tactic and to encourage a settlement more favorable to them.

6. The Band is using “racism” as a scare tactic.

7. Bands are spending huge sums of money for political donations and lobbying in an effort to influence the very government from which they want to be separate.

8. We face a serious challenge to our way of life and the foundations of our County and Country.

1. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is systematically seeking to gain control of all property, people, land and water outside their present trust land area, and within their former 1855 reservation lands.

On Jan 14, 1989, Art Gahbow, former Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band, said in his State of the Band address to an audience of Band members, State and federal officials:

“As of right now we are on the offensive. We are on the attack. To state it simply, we will take it back. …The goal is to get back the original Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake and Rice Lake Reservations. The Lake Lena area will also be expanded. …One way or the other, we will take it back. The state of Minnesota does not understand that we are a sovereign government…All work hours, all business transactions, all contract negotiations will be aimed at one goal: Restoration of the reservation lands…We will not back down. We are on the attack. There is no surrender.”

The Band and its supporters “act as if” the reservation still exists. The Band has built buildings without getting proper permits. They have published maps showing the Mille Lacs Reservation, “as if” it still exists. They went directly to the federal government for permits to build the regional wastewater treatment plant now under construction. Their official web site asserts that the boundaries of the Mille Lacs Reservation cover 61,000 acres in Mille Lacs County. Their Band Statutes state that they claim jurisdiction over all lands within the exterior boundaries of the reservation as established in 1855, and over all non-Indians, political subdivisions and their officers and agents. Does this mean tribal law takes precedence over local, county and state laws? Their statutes also say that the Band’s Commissioner of Natural Resources shall have powers of regulation over all matters of land, air, water, environmental protections and anything and everything related to the conservation and protection of natural resources. The Band’s Commissioner shall have the power to open and close all seasons for hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering of wild rice, with the concurrence of the Spiritual Advisor.

The Band refuses to say that the former reservation doesn’t exist. Band leadership has steadfastly refused to state that the former reservation has been dis-established and does not exist anymore. Rather, they have taken every opportunity to refer to the 61,000-acre area in question as being reservation. The Band’s insistence that the reservation was not dis-established reveals their true intentions and has forced Mille Lacs County to get the issue settled (once again) in a court of law.

The Band has loudly criticized the County’s lawsuit to clarify the reservation boundary issue. If the Band were not intent on again controlling this area, why would they fear this suit? Why would they not simply say they agree that the 1855 reservation no longer exists, and have it over with?

With their newfound casino wealth, the Band has bought a massive amount of real estate in patchwork fashion throughout the former reservation area. In an alarming number of cases (Drift Inn, Rainbow Inn, Fort Mille Lacs Restaurant & Park, Timber Hills Resort, Wigwam Bay Resort, Roll Inn Lodge, Sodbusters Restaurant and more) the purchased property has been allowed to deteriorate, affecting neighboring property values and creating more purchase opportunities for the Band. In other cases the Band has requested and has sometimes received conversion of lands to trust status—meaning no more taxes to our County government and a slow steady increase in total-Band controlled acreage.

The Band is gaining power over non-Indians. As a result of winning the 1837 Treaty lawsuit, the Band wields a huge amount of power over management of fishing on Mille Lacs Lake. As a result of agreements with the State and County the Band has gained police power in the contested area. As a result of the Garrison-Trust land wastewater treatment plant arrangement, the Band will gain power over collection and treatment of sewage in a large area. These seemingly benign arrangements gradually erode state and local jurisdiction, and steadily increase tribal authority.

2. The Mille Lacs Band wants control of ALL of Lake Mille Lacs.

Mille Lacs Band Statutes clearly state that the Band shall have jurisdiction over all non-members (including political subdivisions), on all lands, including fee lands, and in ALL CONTIGUOUS WATERS. That clearly means all of Mille Lacs Lake.

3. In fact, the 1855 reservation does not exist.

The Mille Lacs Reservation was created by the Treaty of 1855, with the Chippewas. In the Treaties of 1863-1864, the Minnesota Chippewa (not just the Mille Lacs Band) sold all the 1855 reservations to the United States, including the 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation. The price agreed upon was paid. The Minnesota Chippewa were to move to a central area provided for them. Article 12 of these treaties also granted as a matter of “favor”, a conditional privilege to the Mille Lacs Band, that they not be compelled to move from the sold 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation as long as they did not “interfere with or in any way molest the persons or property of the whites.”
In 1889 the Band agreed, as a result of the Nelson Act, to forever relinquish the Article 12 conditional privilege of occupancy on the Mille Lacs Reservation to the United States.

Twenty years later, the Mille Lacs Band filed suit against the United States . The Band claimed that the United States failed to properly compensate them for the surrender of their Article 12 conditional privilege of occupancy. The United States Supreme Court held in 1913 that the Band was entitled to additional compensation for the relinquishment of the 1855 Reservation. In so doing, the Court clearly recognized that all parties were in agreement that the 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation no longer existed. For nearly a century, no one, including the Band, suggested that the former reservation still existed.

4. Your quality of life may be drastically changed if the Band prevails.

The Mille Lacs Band Statutes state in the Environmental Protection Code, that the Band shall have jurisdiction over all streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, watercourses, waterways, wells, springs, reservoirs, aquifers, irrigation systems, drainage systems and all other accumulations of water, surface or underground, natural or artificial, public or private, which are contained within, flow through, or border upon the Mille Lacs Reservation and Sandy Lake Reservation as established by the Treaty of 1855.

The Band statutes go on to say that the Band shall have civil jurisdiction over non-Indians, in environmental protection causes, to the extent allowed by our federal government. The Band’s jurisdiction shall extend to all persons, political sub-divisions and their officers and agents, public or private corporations, associations, partnerships and any other individuals that violate the Band’s laws.

These statutes if put in force could clearly infringe on the constitutional rights of both Mille Lacs residents and other non-Band members who visit the area. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly described tribal courts as unfamiliar courts. The court has made clear that non-Indians subject to the jurisdiction of tribal courts are thereby deprived of their constitutional rights (with the exception of habeas corpus).

Justice Souter, in Nevada v. Hicks (2001) said,“The ability of nonmembers to know where tribal jurisdiction begins and ends, it should be stressed, is a matter of real, practical consequence given ‘the special nature of (Indian) tribunals,’…which differ from traditional American courts in a number of significant respects…the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment do not of their own force apply to Indian tribes…Tribal courts also differ from other American courts (and often from one another) in their structure, in the substantive law they apply, and in the independence of their judges…tribal law is still frequently unwritten, being based instead ‘on the values, mores, and norms of a tribe…and is often ‘handed down orally or by example from one generation to another…is unusually difficult for an outsider to sort out. …there is no effective review mechanism in place to police tribal courts’ decisions on matters of non-tribal law…The result…is a risk of substantial disuniformity in the interpretation of state and federal law, a risk underscored by the fact that ‘tribal courts are often subordinate to the political branches of tribal governments’…”

Public Law 280 gives the State limited jurisdiction in “Indian Country” in Minnesota. The State has jurisdiction over crimes committed by both Indians and non-Indians. But without the Bands consent the State, in the contested area, has no jurisdiction over members of Indian tribes concerning such civil matters as failure to provide motor vehicle insurance, proof of insurance, driving with expired registration, driving without a license, driving with expired drivers license, speeding and so forth…while on the Reservation. Band members are prosecuted, if at all, in tribal court. The United States Supreme Court in 1987 cast substantial doubt on whether Public Law 280 authorizes the application of any local laws on Indian reservations.

We must remember also, that Chief Gahbow said in 1989, “Once the criminal code is in place, I want this department to work to retrocede Public Law 280. This will give us exclusive criminal jurisdiction.”

The pattern in recent years is for Indian tribes to attempt to reverse court decisions by appealing to Congress to pass legislation that reverses the court decision. A good example is the current attempt to reverse Nevada v. Hicks with a congressional fix. Everyone familiar with the history of Indian reservations and “Indian Country,” realizes that lives and property in these areas have too often been subject to the changing whims of congressional discretion.

5. The Band is using the cost of the County’s lawsuit as a scare tactic and to try to encourage a settlement more favorable to them.

The Mille Lacs Band is spending large sums of money in an advertising campaign in an attempt to convince County taxpayers that the lawsuit the County has filed against them is an expensive, unnecessary and “risky” lawsuit.

There are approximately 16,000 taxable parcels in Mille Lacs County. If the cost of this lawsuit turns out to be 1.3 million dollars, that figures out to be approximately $81.00 per parcel. Do your own math and decide if the protection of your freedoms as United States citizens is worth the cost.

The Band has complained about the $100,000 plus that they pay to the County in real estate taxes being spent to finance a lawsuit against them, but they make no mention of the approximately $14 million that they received from the federal government in 2000 which came from our taxes. Nor do they mention the benefits which they receive from the County, which amount to 33% of the County budget. Nor do they mention the millions of dollars they receive from their monopoly casino business, audits of which are private due to a bogus claim that they are trade secrets.

Think about it folks! The cost of freedom is never too high! We must not let down those who fought and died to protect these freedoms.

6. The Band is using “racism” as a scare tactic.

Marge Anderson, Chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band at the time, said on November 30, 1999, “Recently, a group known as the Mille Lacs Tea Party was formed. Their racist agenda is simple: to deprive Mille Lacs Band members of our rights.”At every turn, the “racism” label is applied, by both the Mille Lacs Band and their sympathizers, in an effort to draw attention from the real issues. Take a look! This is a jurisdictional dispute.

Furthermore, what could be more racist than giving people special privileges and special land areas because of their race? As a nation we vigorously oppose this apartheid in other parts of the world. Why is it so zealously protected and perpetuated by our own Interior Department?

7. Bands are spending huge sums of money for political donations and lobbying in an effort to influence the very government they want to be separate from.

Elaine Willman, Executive Director of Citizens Standup! Committee in Toppenish, WA and President of CERA (Citizens Equal Rights Alliance) said recently in an open letter to citizen voters, “One-half of 1% (enrolled tribal population) of the U.S. population now financially overwhelms 99.5% of American voters. The money-cancer of more than 200 megabucks Indian casinos, and 567 federally recognized tribes cut huge checks to candidates and political parties, in an unlimited, unregulated flow. That’s 567 big money buckets for a mere 535 federal elected officials in Congress….All other state, county, municipal and foreign governments are prohibited from election contributions and lobbying activities. All other voters are severely regulated, limited and now muzzled, thanks to Campaign Finance Reform.”

8. We face a serious, dangerous threat to our way of life and the foundations of our nation.

The Band has tireless resolve, abundant money and growing political power.We can count on very little support from our federal and state governments because of (1) the Bands political power, (2) the power of political contributions, (3) the risk of being labeled “racist”, (4) the paralyzing power of “white guilt”, and (5) a failed federalIndian policy.

Similar scenarios are happening all over our country. Land owners are being forced to go to court and spend countless dollars to prevent being evicted from their property on the basis of Indian property claims. It is happening in Arizona, and in Illinois and in Kansas City and other places. It can happen here.

The sole purpose of the Mille Lacs County Tea Party is to promote the effort to clarify whether the former Mille Lacs Indian Reservation created by the Treaty of 1855 still exists. We believe that historical and legal history prove that it does not, and that the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that history in 1913. The Supreme Court stated in 1913 that the Band was entitled to additional compensation for their “relinquishment” of the 1855 reservation.

In December 2001, Mille Lacs County filed suit asking the Federal District Court to clarify whether the reservation still exists. It is extremely important to the citizens of Mille Lacs County and the State of Minnesota that this case continue to a successful conclusion. If the County loses this case, the 61,000 acres involved, as well as the cities of Isle, Wahkon and most of Onamia will become “Indian Country”. The designation of “Indian Country” means that the area—populated overwhelmingly by non-Indians—could come under the civil jurisdiction of the Mille Lacs Band government—a government which excludes non-Indians.

The Mille Lacs Band Statutes (the Band’s laws) state that they would control essentially everything that is now controlled by our local, county and state governments—including all of Mille Lacs Lake. As residents of Indian Country we may no longer be governed by Mille Lacs County and the State of Minnesota in many areas, and we would no longer have a voice or vote in some aspects of local government, in addition to having another government in our lives.

The Mille Lacs Band is investing heavily in a public relations campaign to convince the citizens of Mille Lacs County that the lawsuit is a waste of money. They are attempting to smear our County Commissioners, turn us against them, and cause us to quarrel amongst ourselves. They are attempting to have us believe that the existence or non-existence of the former reservation is “a lot to do about nothing”.

If the Band truly believes this issue is a lot to do about nothing, they could simply drop their insistence that this is a reservation, agree with the County and the State, and save everyone a lot of time and money. Their refusal to do this reveals their true intentions and presents a serious problem for the property rights and quality of life of all Mille Lacs County citizens.

What can you do to help?

We suggest:

• That you think about the potential infringements to your rights, your freedom and your property, should we come under the jurisdiction of the Mille Lacs Band

• That you discuss this with your friends
and neighbors

• And most of all, when you vote, vote to elect people who will support our laws and protect our rights as United States citizens.

Editor’s note: PERM would like to thank the Mille Lacs County Tea Party for providing this information. We appreciate everything they are doing to protect the interests of the citizens of Mille Lacs County.