History of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
According to oral traditions, the Ojibwe first lived on the Atlantic coast of North America. About 500 years ago, the ancestors of the Mille Lacs Band began migrating west.
By the mid-1700s, the Ojibwe had established themselves in the region around Mille Lacs Lake in what is today East Central Minnesota. They supported themselves by hunting deer, bear, moose, waterfowl, and small game; fishing the area’s lakes and streams; gathering wild rice, maple sugar, and berries; and cultivating plants.
But it wasn’t long before the Mille Lacs Ojibwe’s self-sufficient way of life was affected by a new presence in their homeland. Europeans started arriving, and as their numbers grew, they began taking more and more of the Mille Lacs Band’s land and natural resources in violation of treaties, statutes and agreements.
Because of new diseases and federal policies, by the end of the nineteenth century, only a few hundred Ojibwe remained on the Mille Lacs Reservation. Band members’ religion was banned, the teaching of their language and culture was often forbidden, their right to govern themselves was virtually taken away, and their traditional means of making a living was made nearly impossible.
Over the next century, the Mille Lacs Band struggled with poverty and despair. Finally, in the early 1990s, the Band opened Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley. Since then, casino revenues have allowed the Mille Lacs Band to strengthen its cultural identity, return to economic self-sufficiency, rebuild its reservation, and increase the prosperity of the entire region.
Important Events in Mille Lacs Band History
1640 – The first written record of contact between Europeans (French fur traders) and Ojibwe occurs at what is now known as Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.
1659 – Daniel Duluth negotiates an agreement of peace between the Ojibwe living near the south shore of Lake Superior and the Dakota people who lived near Mille Lacs Lake. Under the terms of the agreement, the two nations agree to share hunting territory in the area that would eventually become western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. This agreement encourages the Ojibwe to continue their western migration.
1727-1745 – Competition for trade with the French leads to conflicts and warfare between the Ojibwe and the Dakota.
1745-1750 – The Ojibwe arrive in the area around Mille Lacs Lake and force the remaining Dakota, who have already begun migrating west and south, out of the area. The Ojibwe establish their permanent homeland on and around the shores of Mille Lacs Lake.
1783 – The Treaty of Paris ends the American Revolution and establishes the boundary between Canada and the United States, placing the homeland of the Mille Lacs
Ojibwe in American territory.
1825 – A treaty council is held at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. More than 1,000 leaders representing Ojibwe, Dakota, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, Iowa, Winnebago and other tribes gather with Indian agents and commissioners to settle intertribal conflicts. Boundaries are established between the Dakota and Ojibwe, and treaty provisions give mineral exploration rights on some Ojibwe land to the U.S.
1837 – With faulty maps and other misunderstandings of the geography involved, the Mille Lacs Band signs a treaty ceding its homeland to the U.S. government. The Treaty of 1837 protects the rights of the Mille Lacs Ojibwe to hunt, fish and gather on the ceded lands, but allows the land to be settled by non-Indians.
1855 – The Mille Lacs Band signs a treaty that sets aside 61,000 acres as its reservation on and around the south end of Mille Lacs Lake, including the southern part of the lake and southern islands. The Treaty of 1855 also opens up land just north of the new Mille Lacs Reservation to the advancing timber crews.
1858 – Minnesota joins the union.
1862 – During the Dakota War, Mille Lacs Band warriors defend non-Indians from aggression by neighboring Ojibwe bands.
1864 – In recognition of its good conduct during the Dakota War, the Mille Lacs Band receives a guarantee in a treaty with the U.S. government that Band members will not be forced to leave the Mille Lacs Reservation.
1879 – Despite the Treaty of 1864, the U.S. Interior Department proclaims the Mille Lacs Reservation available for purchase by timber companies and others. Congress later reverses the proclamation, but not in time to prevent non-Indians from squatting on the reservation and stripping large areas of pine trees.
1880s – The U.S. government adopts a policy of assimilation, declaring that Indians must conform to the lifestyles of non-Indians.
1884 – The Band’s leaders receive assurances that the presence of non-Indians on Mille Lacs Band land would be investigated and resolved.
1889 – Congress passes the Nelson Act, which seeks to move Ojibwe populations to allotments of land on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, but also allows them to take allotments on their own reservations.
1902 – Government representatives visit Mille Lacs to negotiate an agreement for damages done to Mille Lacs Band members by settlers. During this negotiation, Band members discovered that the promises made to them in 1889 have been broken. Many Band members abandon hope of fair treatment from the U.S. government and move to White Earth. Others are harassed into moving over the next few years as their property is sold out from under them. However, a small group of Band members led by Chief Migizi and Chief Wadena refuse to leave their land.
1911 – The Mille Lacs Lake village of Chief Wadena is burned by a sheriff’s posse and its residents are forcibly removed so that the land they live on can be claimed by a developer.
1914 – Chief Migizi obtains a promise from Congress to purchase 40-acre home sites for the landless Band members. By the time the sites are distributed 12 years later, they have been reduced to five acres.
1917-1918 – Many Mille Lacs Band members join the U.S. Armed Forces to serve and defend America during World War I.
1924 – American Indians are recognized as U.S. citizens by the Indian Citizenship Act.
1930s – Many Mille Lacs Band children are sent to government boarding schools where they are forbidden from speaking the Ojibwe language in an attempt to assimilate them into mainstream society.
1934 – Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act, which formally recognizes Indian tribal self-governance and is intended to restore Indian self-determination and tribal cultures. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is formed as a political union of six Ojibwe bands, including the Mille Lacs Band.
1941-45 – More than 25 Mille Lacs Band members serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Many Mille Lacs Band families move to large cities to work in war-related industries.
1946 – Congress passes the Indian Claims Commission Act as part of an effort to resolve land claims between Indian tribes and the U.S. government.
1952 – The U.S. government adopts the Indian Termination and Indian Relocation policies, which seriously erode the notion of Indian self-government. The idea of assimilating Indians into mainstream society is once again supported by government policy.
1960 – Sam Yankee is elected Chairman of the Mille Lacs Band’s tribal government. Under his leadership, modern homes, public buildings, health services, educational opportunities, and social programs begin to appear on the reservation.
1972 – Arthur Gahbow is elected Chairman of the Mille Lacs Band’s tribal government. Gahbow leads the Band toward self-determination by advancing economic development on the reservation, pursuing land claims to expand the reservation’s land base, and overseeing a restructuring of the Band’s government to a separation-of-powers system.
1975 – Chairman Gahbow is instrumental in forming the Mille Lacs Band’s Nay Ah Shing School following a walkout by reservation youth from a public school in nearby Onamia.
1981 – The Mille Lacs Band advances its self-governance by adopting a separation-of-powers form of government with executive, legislative and judicial branches. The move strengthens the Band’s ability to work with the federal government on a government-to-government basis.
1988 – Congress passes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) which recognizes that Indian tribes have the right to own and operate casino gaming businesses on reservation lands.
1988 – The Band is one of the original 10 tribes to participate in the first Tribal Self-Governance Demonstration Project.
1989 – Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich signs gaming compacts with the Mille Lacs Band. The State of Minnesota approves Indian gaming in order to create jobs and boost the economy in Greater Minnesota.
1990 – Marvin Bruneau is elected District II Representative, a position he held until 2014.
1991 – The Mille Lacs Band opens Grand Casino Mille Lacs, fulfilling a dream of Chairman Gahbow, who was instrumental in its creation. The opening ushers in a new era of prosperity on the reservation and in the surrounding region.
1991 – Marge Anderson is appointed to replace Chairman Gahbow, who dies suddenly while in office. Under Anderson’s leadership, the Band uses casino revenues to strengthen its culture, and benefit the region.
1991 – The Band becomes the first tribe in the United States to issue community improvement bonds backed by casino revenues. These bonds supply $20 million to fund reservation construction projects including new schools, clinics, community centers, ceremonial buildings, housing, a water tower, water treatment plant, lagoon system, roads, other reservation infrastructure, and a long-term savings and investment fund.
1991 – The Mille Lacs Band Police Department becomes a professional law enforcement agency with officers who are licensed by the state of Minnesota in 1991. (The department started with one officer in 1984.)
1992 – The Mille Lacs Band opens Grand Casino Hinckley.
1992 – Marge Anderson is elected to a four-year term as Chief Executive of the Band. She was Chief Executive until 2000 and resumed the position from 2008-2012.
1993 – The Band opens the new Ne-Ia-Shing Clinic, the first tribal health facility in the nation built with casino revenues.
1994 – Based on the success the Mille Lacs Band and other tribes have shown in self-governance, President Bill Clinton signs legislation turning the Self-Governance Demonstration Project into a permanent project. Under the law, the Mille Lacs Band and other tribes sign compacts with several federal departments allowing an even greater degree of self-determination.
1995 – The Ojibwe Language Program, consisting of language and cultural activities aimed at youth, becomes a core element of the pre-K and K-12 curricula at the Band’s Nay Ah Shing Schools.
1996 – The Band secures federal regulatory approval to acquire First State Bank of Onamia through the formation of the nation’s first wholly Indian-owned holding company. This leads to the Band’s Woodlands National Bank, which today has six locations.
1999 – The Band introduces Circle of Health, a health insurance program focused on paying Band members’ co-pays and deductibles.
1999 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Mille Lacs Band retains the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands it ceded to the federal government through the Treaty of 1837 under tribal regulations. This decision ends the Band’s nine-year legal battle to have its 1837 treaty rights recognized.
2000 – Sandra Blake is elected District I Representative, a position she held from 2000-2004 and resumed in 2008 to the present.
2000 – Melanie Benjamin is elected Chief Executive, a position she held from 2000-2008 and resumed in 2012.
2001-2002 – The Band opens assisted living units in all three reservation districts.
2002 – The Band purchases Eddy’s Lake Mille Lacs Resort, a popular resort dating back to 1960.
2004 – The Band opens a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility, partnering with the Garrison Kathio West Mille Lacs Lake Sanitary District to provide treatment services to residents and businesses of the West Mille Lacs Lake region.
March 2004 – The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals finds that Mille Lacs County’s lawsuit against the Mille Lacs Band failed to show that the Band’s reservation boundaries have harmed the county. The court’s dismissal of the lawsuit affirms that the county was “unable to point to any definite controversy that exists from the Band’s purported expansion of tribal jurisdiction over the disputed portion of the reservation.”
November 2004 – The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Mille Lacs County’s lawsuit challenging the existence of the 61,000-acre Mille Lacs Reservation boundaries. The case had previously been dismissed by a U.S. District Court chief judge and the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The nearly three-year legal battle cost the county approximately $1.3 million.
July 2010 – Curt Kalk is elected as the Band’s Secretary/Treasurer and Diane Gibbs is elected District III Representative, both for the first time.
April 2011 – Grand Casino Mille Lacs celebrates its 20th anniversary.
May 2012 – Grand Casino Hinckley celebrates its 20th anniversary.
July 2012 – Melanie Benjamin is elected Chief Executive; Sandra Blake is re-elected as the District I Representative.
July 2014 – Carolyn Beaulieu is sworn in as Secretary/Treasurer and Speaker of the Band Assembly. David ‘Niib’ Aubid is sworn in as District II Representative, and Harry Davis Jr. is sworn in as District III Representative.