8th Circuit rules:
Mille Lacs County cannot seek court ruling in reservation boundary dispute.

By Clare Fitz

There occasionally comes a time that one should step back, assess the situation and decide where it is prudent to go from here. This is one of those times for the Mille Lacs County Tea Party and the residents of Mille Lacs County.

In February 2002, Mille Lacs County filed suit against the Mille Lacs Band, asking the federal court (8th Circuit) for a declaratory judgment on whether or not the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation that was created by the Treaty of 1855 and disestablished and ceded (sold) through later treaties, still exists or not. The 1st National Bank of Milaca, shortly thereafter, joined the suit.

On May 6, 2002 Judge Rosenbaum, refusing to look at the request for a declaratory judgment on whether the former reservation still exists, dismissed the case on grounds that no real harm has been done to the County by the Band. He made that ruling “with prejudice” which means that the County would be prevented from bringing the same suit to the court at some future time.

On October 17, 2003 Mille Lacs County appealed Judge Rosenbaums decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On March 9, 2004 the appeals court agreed with Judge Rosenbaum’s ruling that the case should be dismissed, but reversed the “with prejudice” ruling, thereby allowing the County to file the same suit at sometime in the future.

We should recall the events that led up to the decision to organize the Mille Lacs County Tea Party and the decision on the part of Mille Lacs County and the Bank to file suit.

As you will recall, there was serious concern among County residents over the direction the Band was headed. Back in 1989 the Chief Executive of the Band set the stage by announcing that “the goal is to get back the original Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake and Rice Lake Reservations.”

We need to remember that the Band was building structures without the required County and State permits and inspections, and they were claiming that the County had no authority to require permits from the Band. We need to remember that the Band and it’s members were interfering with property improvement projects by non-Band members by requiring archeological permits from the Band, by asking for Band-issued building permits, by interfering with landscaping by non-Band members and by objecting to tree removals, to mention a few. They were bypassing State agencies in favor of the more liberal federal agencies or making behind the scenes agreements rather than following established lines of protocol.

The Band had put in place Band statutes, which clearly revealed their intent to control ALL of Mille Lacs Lake. They were claiming jurisdiction over all people (including non-members), all lands and all of Lake Mille Lacs.

All of these actions were based on the Band’s assertion that the long since disestablished 61,000 acre Mille Lacs Indian Reservation still exists.

Whether or not the court was willing to recognize it, these are very real harms to the financial and emotional well-being and stability of the residents that make up Mille Lacs County and consequently, the County.

So what does the court’s decision mean to us as Mille Lacs County residents and property owners?

The Appeals Court made it very clear that if the Band were to cause harm in the future, that would be cause to re-file the case. Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Kolb was quoted as saying, “It remains an ongoing, unsettled issue for us in the County. It makes every (County) department have to be on guard, watching for any movement on the Band’s part.”

It would seem to me, that if the Band really thought they had a strong case that the former reservation still exists, that they would have allowed the case to proceed so that their belief would be confirmed. Instead, they made every effort to side-track the case. Conclude what you will, but the bottom line is that we still don’t know whether the 61,000 acres are reservation or not.

While the court has warned the Band that to “act as if” the reservation still exists will be a reason to re-examine the issue, the federal government (primarily the Bureau of Indian Affairs) has gone on record as believing that the reservation still exists. In addition, there are serious efforts in Congress that would give more power to Indian tribes and further divide our nation.

Federal Indian Policy, as it now exists and as it has existed since the beginning of our nation, is a failed policy that promotes racism. It cries out for politicians courageous enough to call for reform.

If we are to preserve the Mille Lacs Lake area for the livelihood and enjoyment of future generations, regardless of race, then our efforts must not stop here. In whatever form it proceeds, we must continue to work toward “One Nation, Indivisible” as our forefathers envisioned.