Mille Lacs County asks Supreme Court to review reservation case.
By Clare Fitz, Chairman, Mille Lacs County Tea Party

On May 25, 2004 the Mille Lacs County board, on behalf of Mille Lacs County, voted to file a petition of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. A few days earlier the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had denied the County’s petition for rehearing, making the Supreme Court the final option in pursuing the Counties request that the district court make a declaratory judgment on the existence or non-existence of the former 1855 Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.

In judging the wisdom of this latest action, one needs to recall that it was the U.S. Supreme Court that in 1913 awarded compensation to the Mille Lacs Band in return for disestablishment of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation (1863-64) and the relinquishment of their claim that the ceded former reservation was theirs to use and occupy forever (1889).

Mille Lacs County has asked the court for a declaratory judgment on the basis that on previous occasions, the court has made such judgments on legitimate Indian reservation boundary disputes without additional specific controversy being present. The legal precedent of City of New Town, North Dakota v. United States (1972) and Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip (1977), the County contends, should rule in the current case. It is notable that Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the supporting opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rosebud case.

So while the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a very small percentage of the cases presented to them for review, the hope is that the fact that the district court, in this case, strayed so far from previous decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, that it may get their attention.
The fact still remains, that if the County can get a hearing on the merits of its case, the chances of a successful outcome are excellent.

While the District Appeals Court got a firm commitment, through the Band’s attorney, that any future demonstrable harm to the County by the Band would constitute grounds for re-opening the lawsuit, that commitment is small comfort to the residents of Mille Lacs County. The only way that commitment is protective is if the County board remains supportive of legally determining whether or not the former reservation still exists. It is already becoming very evident that the Band and their supporters are attempting to become more and more involved in local and County government.

The reservation issue MUST be resolved legally. If it is not, there is no doubt that it will become a de facto reservation whether or not the legal and historical evidence supports that designation. That is so, because both the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) already are regulating as if the reservation has been re-established or was never disestablished. Until the State of Minnesota and its citizens have the will to strenuously object to that usurpation of their rightful power, it will continue. These disputes are taking place across our nation and there are lawsuits in New York, Wisconsin, California and many other states.

Recent bills being considered by Congress become major concerns for the residents of northern Mille Lacs County, given the uncertainty of reservation status.

Senate Bill 578 and its counterpart, House Bill 2242, which are proposed amendments to the Homeland Security Act, continue to exist in Congress. Section 13 of both bills would give tribes complete criminal, civil and taxation control over all residents of Indian reservations. It would also give tribal jurisdiction over all businesses doing business with Indian tribes or their members as well as jurisdiction over all roads going through Indian reservations.

On April 7, 2004 Senator Inouye introduced in Congress, Senate Bill 2301 (Native American Fish and Wildlife Resources Management Act). This bill contains, among other things, several troublesome provisions. It gives Indian tribes civil jurisdiction over non-members on reservations and authority to regulate hunting and fishing activities on reservations. It establishes an elaborate plan for management of fish and wildlife, all at U.S. government expense. It withdraws tribal wildlife management activity from the Freedom of information Act, thereby making it secret. It offers tribes a role in the management of federal wildlife areas.

This activity in Congress makes the Mille Lacs Band statutes more believable and frightening. Those statutes clearly reveal the Bands intent to control all of Mille Lacs Lake. They claim jurisdiction over all people (including non-members), all lands and all of Lake Mille Lacs.

This, of course, would be “jurisdiction without representation”, as non-members would have no voice or vote in the government that would control them. Can this really happen in America? Well, folks, there is a very real risk of it happening unless we are vigilant and committed.

There is a movement afloat to promote the idea that the lawsuit was the wrong tactic and that agreements and cooperation between the Band and the rest of the County is the solution. That tactic will never work as long as the federal government in encouraging tribes to become more and more aggressive in separating themselves from the rest of the United States.

We must constantly remind ourselves that the tribes are just a pawn in this struggle and that our real adversary is our own federal government and its flawed federal Indian policy.