A court ruling announced January 12th, in a press release from Mille Lacs County Administrator Dillon Hayes, restores the Mille Lacs Band’s ownership of the long dis-established 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation. This includes civil and criminal authority over all persons in that territory.

As PERM has often pointed out, such jurisdiction covers all natural resources. That puts anything related to hunting, fishing, and gathering, entirely beyond the reach of the MN DNR. That includes any “co-management” or “negotiations.”

These and other points in the press release are facts of law. Tribal protestations minimizing the threats or fallout from the ruling would be only opinions.

Read more from the press release below.

January 12, 2023

The County is disappointed by the Court’s ruling as it allows tribal police to investigate the activities of non-Indians throughout the original 1855 Reservation boundaries, even on non-Indian owned lands and homes. The ruling runs counter to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have consistently found that tribes lack civil and criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians and on non-Indian lands even within a reservation (subject to very narrow exceptions). As a result, the ruling has the effect of disenfranchising non-Indians who can now be investigated by a government in which they cannot participate.

The County believes the expansion of tribal law enforcement authority is neither necessary nor warranted since, under Public Law 280, the Mille Lacs Sheriff’s deputies are on duty and regularly patrol the entire area in question with criminal law enforcement authority over all persons.

It is also of concern that the Court’s ruling holds that the tribe’s enforcement powers arise from its traditional power to exclude persons from the original 1855 Reservation boundaries. Applying the logic of that finding to its ultimate conclusion leads to the untenable position that the Band has the authority to exclude non-Indians from non-Indian lands and homes and to exclude them from public roadways. Surely, that has never been the legislative intent of any law or treaty.

While our concerns about this ruling are profound and multi-faceted, two aspects of the Court’s ruling are welcome: the conclusion that no injunction against the County, County Attorney or Sheriff was warranted and that the claims against the Sheriff and County Attorney in their individual capacities should be dismissed. Both of these findings are positive even though both the Sheriff and County Attorney remain defendants in their official capacities.

It is also gratifying that the Court did not uphold claims by the Band that the County, County Attorney and Sheriff were responsible for an increase in crime and opioid deaths and that Sheriff’s deputies threatened to arrest tribal officers. To the contrary, the Court here made no findings to support those allegations, noting simply that the “facts relating to specific instances of deterrence and interference may very well be in dispute.”

No one should dismiss the immense impact that this ruling will have on everyone living, working, or visiting the three northern townships of Mille Lacs County, as it builds upon the Court’s earlier decision that the 1855 Reservation still exists. If these rulings stand, they will affect the rights of non-Indians by expanding the authority of the Mille Lacs Band over non-Indian persons and lands. The implications of these rulings go far beyond our specific issues and should be reviewed carefully by every government that works with tribes.

While the Court’s ruling is lengthy and will take time to carefully review and analyze, we believe there are grounds for a strong and successful appeal.

CONTACT: Dillon Hayes, County Administrator, dillon.hayes@millelacs.mn.gov, (320) 983-8349

Administrative Services Office
635 2nd Street SE
Milaca, MN 56353