PERM is sharing this pre-release version the Mille Equal Rights Foundation analysis of the Mille Lacs reservation boundary ruling. It follows the PERM/MERF joint filing of an amicus brief for an appeal of the ruling.

MERF’s report below describes the run-up to the Court’s ruling and it’s impact on the civil rights of non-tribal citizens in the Mille Lacs County area. This case is also important as the Court’s final decision will set a precedent that could be used in similar cases across MN and the entire U.S.

PERM supports giving the report as much distribution as possible. Your donation will help awareness and support for a ruling that supports the civil rights of all citizens Please consider your support for the cause. DONATE to MERF HERE

— Mille Lacs County Has a Duty to Defend Itself and its Citizens —

Mille Lacs Band sued Mille Lacs County. Over the decades, here are their words:

“As of right now we are on the offensive. We are on the attack. To state it simply, we will take back … the original Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake and Rice Lake reservations.”
— Mille Lacs Band Chief Art Gahbow 1989

“… and we do hereby forever relinquish to the United States the right of occupancy on the Mille Lacs Reservation, reserved to us by the twelfth article of the treaty of May 7, 1864 …”
— The Nelson Act signed by 189 Mille Lacs Chippewa and eleven chiefs 1889

Since 1991 the Mille Lacs Band was required by law to have a cooperative agreement with the county sheriff in order to have complete law enforcement on their trust lands (about 3,400 acres), and limited law enforcement authority on the 61,000-acre former reservation. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t. Since 1991 each party has cancelled the agreement at least once.

In 2017 the Mille Lacs Band sued Mille Lacs County over law enforcement and alleged that the former 1855 reservation still exists. On March 4, 2022 District Judge Sue Nelson agreed and ruled that the former 61,000-acre reservation still exists.

In 2023 the Minnesota legislature amended the law so that a cooperative agreement is no longer required. The Band’s attorney stated, “The amendment … provides that the Band has jurisdiction over all persons within the original boundaries …”
— Band’s brief to the Appeals Court June 5, 2023.

If the Tribal Law and Order Act is reauthorized it will include “a provision allowing Indian Tribes to issue trespass orders …”
— Chief Melanie Benjamin – Jan 2023 State of the Band Address

Regulation without representation? Absolutely!

County commissioners, county sheriff and county attorney are all elected by a vote of all the people of Mille Lacs County. Mille Lacs Band officials are elected only by tribal members, and their police chief is appointed.

Deposition of Sara Rice, Band Chief of Police:

Question It’s your testimony that you understand that 626.90 provides you state law enforcement on non-trust lands; Correct?
Answer Yes … Q: Any other places within Mille Lacs County? A: All … of Mille Lacs County.

Question Does inherent tribal law enforcement authority give you law enforcement authority over band members?
Answer Yes …

Question Non-band members?
Answer Yes.”


1837 A large area including the area that would become the Mille Lacs Reservation was sold (ceded) to the United States by the Chippewa Nation.

1855 A large area of Minnesota Territory was sold (ceded) to the United States by the Mississippi, Pillager and Winnibigoshish bands of Chippewa and the Mille Lacs Reservation was created.

1863 The Gull Lake, Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake, Rabbit Lake, Pokagomin Lake and Rice Lake Reservations were sold (ceded) to the United States by Mississippi, Pillager and Winnibigoshish Bands and a new reservation later expanded to become White Earth Reservation was created for them.

1864 A nearly identical treaty signed in which the Mille Lacs Chief Shaw-vosh-kung was given 640 acres of fee land on which he, his wife and daughters paid real estate taxes until the land was eventually sold.

1889 Congress passed the Nelson Act which established a process “for the complete cession and relinquishment … of title and interest in and to all the reservations of said Indians in the State of Minnesota, except White Earth and Red Lake reservations.”

1913 The U.S. Supreme Court in the case United States v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians explained that the Nelson Act contains “an express relinquishment of the lands in the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.”

1935 Department of Interior issues an opinion that the Mille Lacs Reservation had been ceded (sold) to the United States. For over 100 years. Minnesota governors have agreed.

2015 Department of Interior issues an opinion stating, “All of the bands reservation is included [in Indian Country], not just the trust lands.

This report, Q & A, and Timeline were prepared and paid for by Mille Lacs Equal Rights Foundation,
P.O. Box 62
Wahkon, MN 56386.

Maps are from Mille Lacs Band website.

Please Share with friends. And consider your support for the cause. DONATE to MERF