Boozhoo, and congratulations to all our 2019 graduates! This is one of the best times of the year, not just because the weather is so beautiful (though we could do without the May snow), but because so many of our Band members are reaching new heights by completing all levels of education, from Head Start to elementary, high school, college, vocational training and graduate school. Over the past decade, the number of Band Members earning Master’s degrees has continued to climb, which sends the message to younger generations that they can achieve their higher education goals as well. It is always my priority to attend as many Band Member graduation ceremonies as my calendar will allow; seeing our Band Members receive their diplomas surrounded by supportive families beaming with pride is a highlight of the year.
In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of so many of our youngest Band Members, I was also able to spend quality time with Band Elders in May during the Elder meetings in Districts I, II, IIa, III, and the urban area, and during the Elder Trip to Las Vegas. I am deeply appreciative to all our Elders who attended these meetings and shared their wisdom about ways to make our tribal government work better for all Band members. It is also wonderful to hear their stories, jokes, and laughter.
The Mille Lacs Band has always placed a great deal of emphasis on our culture, our spirituality, and our treaty rights. Regarding our rights, some very exciting news came down from the U.S. Supreme Court this past month, which ruled 5-4 in favor of Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow Tribe, who had been prosecuted by the state of Wyoming for exercising his hunting rights in Bighorn National Forest during Wyoming’s off-season hunting period. In Herrera v. Wyoming, the court held that hunting rights for the Crow tribe under their treaty did not expire when Wyoming became a state. The Court wrote that there isn't ”any evidence in the treaty itself that Congress intended the hunting right to expire at statehood, or that the Crow Tribe would have understood it to do so.” This was a critical case for all tribes nationwide with hunting, fishing, and gathering rights via treaty in exchange for ceded lands.
When the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) began discussing submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on this case (which is a brief submitted for the purpose of providing the court with additional insight or information supporting one of the parties) the Mille Lacs Band offered the services of Marc Slonim to NCAI for purposes of writing NCAI’s amicus brief. Marc has been our external counsel for more than 30 years and successfully litigated our 1837 Treaty rights case before the Supreme Court. In the Supreme Court’s ruling this month siding with Mr. Herrera and the Crow Tribe, the Court heavily relied upon and cited the Mille Lacs Band’s 1837 case. Through sponsoring NCAI’s Amicus Brief, the Mille Lacs Band directly helped our relatives across the country and ensured that our Supreme Court victory remain settled law when it comes to treaty rights cases.
Our focus on protecting public safety through battling the opioid epidemic is also making news. On May 2, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release regarding the federal charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin on our Reservation. Miigwech to Tribal PD and all other law enforcement agencies who were part of this effort to fight opioid trafficking in our community. This helps to protect public safety not just for the Band, but for our entire region, and was an outcome of the Band's efforts to maintain and strengthen its police department under federal, state, and tribal law.
On May 1, the Band welcomed Caleb Dogeagle, who was sworn into the position of Solicitor General of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Caleb is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and comes to us with a great deal of experience, education, and passion for protecting tribal rights and Indian people. You can read about Caleb on pages 1 and 7, and if you see him around the Government Center, please give him a warm welcome.
Finally, there is a bill that will be introduced in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House soon which would impact all six Bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and although it is a small change, it is important that Band members understand it. This legislation would allow for the transfer of all lands currently held in federal trust by the United States government for the benefit of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe into the name of the individual Band that already exercises jurisdiction over the land. In our case, while the Mille Lacs Band has always had lands held in trust for the Mille Lacs Band by the federal government, there are also some lands which the Mille Lacs Band has jurisdiction over which are held in trust for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT). The bill will transfer title to these lands from the MCT to the Mille Lacs Band, and have the same impact on MCT trust lands on the five other reservations: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, and White Earth. All the MCT trust lands on all the reservations will revert to being held in trust for the reservation at which the land is located.
Many have asked how this happened in the first place that our lands were placed in the name of the MCT rather than the Mille Lacs Band. As a result of the allotment policy imposed in Minnesota in 1889 under the Nelson Act, lands were taken from the Bands by non-Indians, timber companies, and others. Later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs formed the Consolidated Chippewa Agency which provided small payments to the Chippewa Bands for lands and timber taken under the Nelson Act, including those at Red Lake. In 1934 the Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was established under a 1936 IRA Constitution. Red Lake did not join the MCT.
Between 1936 and 1963, the Bands purchased lands, but the federal government put them into trust for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe versus the individual Band. This means that the United States holds title to those lands, but it is held in federal trust status by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (all 42,000 members). After 1963, the policy changed, and the federal government allowed lands to be taken into trust by the United States for individual Bands.
The MCT passed Land Ordinance Number 3 in the 1980s. This Ordinance, passed by all six Bands, allowed each individual Band to control the MCT trust lands on or near their respective reservations. Consequently, MCT lands at Bois Forte were controlled by the Bois Forte Reservation Tribal Council, and MCT lands at Mille Lacs were controlled by the Executive and Legislative branches of the Mille Lacs Band.
Over the years, all six Bands have run into difficulties arising from the MCT being named as beneficial owners of the trust lands rather than individual Bands. For example, we are unable to take advantage of certain federal housing acts that could benefit our Band members because the land is technically controlled by all six bands through the MCT. The federal government has taken the position that the only way for one Band to fully utilize these lands would be for all six Bands to agree on one uniform land-use policy, which is unlikely to ever happen because the Bands each have very different land-use policies based on their own tribal priorities, history and needs.
Although the Tribal Executive Committee of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe sought to convince the BIA to solve this problem, BIA officials decided that because it is federal trust land, an Act of Congress is required to change the beneficial ownership. As a result, all six Bands agreed to get federal legislation to change the status of the MCT trust lands from being held by six Bands to a beneficial interest held by one Band.
In short, if this legislation passes, our trust land will be our trust land — no one else will have a claim to it. This change is largely technical in nature, but I hope this helps Band members to understand it. Band members with additional questions are welcome to contact me or Commissioner Bradley Harrington to further discuss this matter. Miigwech!