US District Court upholds Mille Lacs Indian Reservation

“This decision confirms what Shaboshkung began to fight for in the 1860s, what all leaders have pursued since and what we have always known – that our reserve has never been diminished, that we are irremovable and that this reserve will be our home in perpetuity,” Melanie Benjamin, executive director of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, said in a press release Saturday, March 5.

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The county argued in the lawsuit that the 1855 treaty reservation was terminated by. Congress by subsequent treaties, statutes and agreements with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and, also, that county law enforcement did not interfere with the ability of tribal law enforcement to do the police. The tribe argued that the county was undermining tribal policing, contributing to an influx of criminal activity.

“For more than 160 years, Congress has never clearly expressed an intention to suppress or diminish the Mille Lacs reservation,” Judge Nelson wrote in her decision for Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe v. Cnty. Thousand Lakes yesterday. “The Court therefore confirms what the Band has maintained for the better part of two centuries: the boundaries of the Mille Lacs Reserve remain as they were under Article 2 of the 1855 Treaty.”

Judge Nelson wrote her opinion on the relentless efforts of Shaboshkung and other ancestors to hold the United States accountable for honoring President Lincoln’s word that the band could remain on his land forever.

“While both the federal government and the state of Minnesota recognize the 1855 reservation boundary, Mille Lacs County has declined to do so,” the tribe said in a news release.

Over the next few days, lawyers for the Mille Lacs Band will consider Justice Nelson’s opinion, but his decision is seen as a historic step.

“We sincerely hope that this decision will allow us to move beyond the need to fight with the county of Mille Lacs for our very existence; instead, we invite the county – and all of our local governments – to stand with us and join us in the fight for a better future for all of our communities for generations to come,” Benjamin said.

The Mille Lacs Reservation is located in east-central Minnesota and is the perennial home of the non-removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. According to the tribe, more than 2,300 of the band’s 4,700 members live within the boundaries of the reservation. The Band supports its members with a variety of services for economic, social and cultural advancement, including health services, early childhood and youth centers and economic development planning.

Nohemi M. Moore