Tracy LeBrun writing in the Mille Lacs Messenger, Reservation Boundary Signs Go Up, January 11, 2021, provides details about the Mille Lacs Band’s MnDOT “reservation boundary” campaign.
Mille Lac tribal claims for the existence of the long-since-disestablished Mille Lacs reservation are being amped up with MnDOT highway signage. The signs include the words “Established in 1855 Treaty” and are placed where the old boundaries cross highways.
It’s part of a well-funded, coordinated campaign of public relations, litigation and political influence to bolster the “reservation still exists” narrative. The Band hopes to mold public opinion against Mille Lacs County, which is defending itself against a lawsuit that is ultimately over defining reservation boundaries.
A similar effort came in January when Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced filing an “opinion” in court that backs tribal claims that the reservation established by the 1855 Treaty and covering 61,000 acres still exists. Gov. Walz’s supported AG Ellison’s opinion but inexplicitly ignored many requests from the County to meet with them over the issue. The opinion is a reversal of previous Attorney Generals Lori Swanson and Mike Hatch and all the past governors of Minnesota.
Mille Lacs County has always held that Article 1 of the 1864 Treaty ceded the 1855 Reservation to the United States. They responded with a brief statement: “For more than 100 years, it has been settled law–accepted by the County, the State, the Federal government, and even the Band itself–that the Mille Lacs Reservation was disestablished. Now that the Band has sought to re-open that question, it will be decided by the federal courts and not by the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s placement of highway signs.”
It is likely that the issue of the Reservation boundary will eventually be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
PERM stands by all treaties as written. That includes both 1855 as well as the 1864 treaties.
Reservation boundary signs go up
by T.A. LeBrun Jan 11, 2021
Before the courts have had a chance to rule on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation boundary issue currently in litigation, and what many in the area would consider a brazen move and others would consider long overdue, the State of Minnesota on behalf of the Mille Lacs Band, erected signs on Jan. 7 marking what they believe are the Reservation boundaries.
As of press time, additional signs were going up in other locations along state highways within the original 61,000 acres of the 1855 Treaty Reservation.
In February of last year, Gov. Tim Walz reversed the official, long-held opinion of the State of Minnesota on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation boundaries to include the original 61,000 acres surrounding the lower half of Mille Lacs Lake.
This opinion is a reversal of previous Attorney Generals Lori Swanson and Mike Hatch and all the past governors of Minnesota.
A Minnesota federal judge, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, on Monday, Dec. 21, agreed to a motion by attorneys for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe for a summary judgment on standing regarding a breakdown in the law enforcement agreement between tribal police and Mille Lacs County as part of the tribal police and Band’s 2017 lawsuit against the County.
Judge Nelson did not issue an opinion on the Reservation boundaries, which is also part of the lawsuit, but the subject will be heard on March 15 in court. It is likely that the issue of the Reservation boundary will eventually be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mille Lacs County holds the opinion that Article 1 of the 1864 Treaty ceded the 1855 Reservation to the United States.
“Yesterday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation began placing signs on the borders of our Reservation. The signs read: Misi-zaaga’iganiing/Mille Lacs Reservation/Established in 1855 Treaty.
“These signs will not affect our pending lawsuit but are an important reminder of the establishment of our Reservation. Our ancestors withstood a decades-long campaign by powerful timber companies, non-Indian settlers, and federal, state and county officials to force them from the Reservation, which included acts of violence and the burning of the Band’s homes and villages. They remained here against all odds.
“Given our history, and the modern-day efforts of Mille Lacs County to erase all memory of our Reservation, we greatly appreciate the State’s public recognition of its establishment in 1855.”
MnDOT Office of Communications and Public Engagement Director Jake Loesch gave the following statement in response of the boundary sign placement:
“The Attorney General has clarified the State of Minnesota’s position on the reservation boundary for the Mille Lacs Band. MnDOT will continue to use this boundary, which is also consistent with the position of the federal government.”