Yet another reason we need to resolve the Mille Lacs Reservation boundary issue.

By Clare Fitz, Chairman
Mille Lacs County Tea Party

As of this writing, we are still waiting for a decision from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether or not Mille Lacs County’s court case will be heard. That case, as you are aware was dismissed and the dismissal is currently in appeals court. As you know, that case asks the court to make a judgment as to whether or not the former 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation, which includes the Townships of Isle Harbor, South Harbor and Kathio and the cities of Onamia, Wahkon and Isle, still exists. In other words, do those of us who live in those areas live on an Indian reservation or not?

As we wait, more storm clouds have appeared on the horizon.

The United States Supreme Court, on January 21, 2004, will hear oral arguments on United States v.Billy Jo Lara. While the technical issue is whether Mr. Lara can be prosecuted twice, both by an Indian tribe and by the federal government, for the same crime, the important issues are whether federal Indian policy is subject to constitutional restraints or whether it is “common law” that can be changed by Congress without those constraints, and also, whether any sovereignty that Indian tribes may possess is an inherent sovereignty that predates the United States Constitution or whether it is sovereignty delegated to the tribes by Congress.

Mr. Lara is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians but broke the law on the North Dakota reservation of the Spirit Lake Nation of which he is not a member.

In 1990, the Supreme Court held, in Duro v. Reina, that tribes do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians or Indians who are not members of that particular tribe or band. In 1991, Congress passed an amendment to the Indian Civil Rights Act that recognized “the inherent power of Indian tribes…to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Indians.” This legislation, in effect, reversed the Duro v. Reino decision.

So the constitutional issue is whether Congress can overrule the Supreme Court’s Duro decision.

So what does that mean to those of us who live in, or own property in, the contested 61,000 acres of Mille Lacs County? If, in fact, Congress has the authority to create inherent sovereignty for Indian tribes that gives them jurisdiction over non-member Indians, then what would stop Congress from giving tribes jurisdiction over non-Indians who live on Indian reservations?

In fact, two bills currently in Congress (S.578 and H.2242) would do exactly that, giving the tribes jurisdiction over “all places and persons within Indian country”. The language of these identical bills “affirms and declares that the inherent sovereign authority of an Indian tribal government includes the authority to enforce and adjudicate violations of applicable criminal, civil and regulatory laws committed by any person on land under the jurisdiction of the Indian tribal government”.

The Mille Lacs Band statutes state that “The jurisdiction of the…Mille Lacs Band…shall extend to all persons…within the exterior boundaries of the Mille Lacs…Reservation…The Mille Lacs Reservation shall mean all land within the exterior boundary described in the Treaty of 1855…The [Mille Lacs Band] Commissioner…shall have powers of regulation over all matters of land,
air, water…”

The Band, in their effort to avoid an answer from the courts on whether or not the former Mille Lacs Reservation still exists, has assured the court that they have no intention of enforcing their laws on non-Indians. That assurance is nebulous at best.
If the Department of Justice were to prevail in this lawsuit, those of us who reside in, or own property in, northern Mille Lacs County could end up under the jurisdiction of the Band without the protections of the U.S. Constitution.