This Day in History: How Minnesota Politicians Helped Cheat White Earth Out Timber

The Steenerson Act of 1904 was a Trojan Horse for Minnesota’s Anishinaabe people. It looked like a gift and it ended up being a trap to get access to the tribe’s valuable timber. The act was named for its author, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Halvor Steenerson of Crookston. It was passed on this day in history, April 28, 1904.

Here’s how Minnesota’s leading politicians connived to help their buddies in the timber industry.

Start with the fact that before the Steenerson Act was on the table, federal policy already had begun breaking up tribal-held lands into individual allotments. The goal was to assimilate Native Americans into main stream society by making them individual property owners. On White Earth, families received 80 acres parcels of non pine land. The valuable timber lands remained under tribal ownership, because it could not be equitably divided.

According to Melissa Meyer’s book: The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, the individual allotments on White Earth were had been less than expected and families wanted larger allotments. Enter Rep. Steenerson who authors a bill to double the allotments to 160 acres. He’s a hero. Some people on the reservation “were so pleased that they started an effort to adopt Steenerson into the tribe and give him his own allotment,” Meyer wrote

Now comes the Trojan Horse.

A day after Steenerson introduced his bill, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Moses Clapp of Fergus Falls introduced a rider to a lengthy Indian Appropriations bill. It allowed individual Indian landholders to sell the timber on their allotments. Steenerson’s plan to expand the size of individual holdings, which Clapp had supported, could be met “only if the pine lands, heretofore largely unallotted, were divided …” Bottom line: The two measures worked together — Steenerson’s bill increased the pine lands in individual ownership and the Clapp Rider let them sell it. It made it easier for the lumber industry to buy off the timber.

In her book, Tracks, Louise Erdrich writes: “The inevitable catalog of abuses — from illiterate tribespeople being conned out of their parcels by unscrupulous lumber companies to crooked representatives writing their own claims — is considerable.”

Pomo Indians Reclaim Piece of California Coast

Minnesota-based Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) is committed to get Indian lands back in Indian hands. As one example, on Earth Day, it announced that the Pomo Indians were able to reclaim some 700 acres of their ancestral lands along the northern California coast. It was made possible with the help of the Indian Land Capital Company, a subsidiary of ILTF.

In a release, the Foundation said:

Tribal Chairman Reno Keoni Franklin observed: “The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians has come full circle, once again regaining ownership of our coastal land. After 150 years of forced removal from our coast, we have returned to ownership. We are proud owners of the Kashia Coastal Reserve, an environmentally protected property along our Northern California coast. It would not have been possible without the assistance of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation/Indian Land Capital Company, not only did they play a major financial role in our acquisition of the property, they also provided valuable advice and were a strong voice of empowerment when we doubted if we could complete the purchase.”

Film Screening: Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi

A film screening of “Rising Voices: Hótȟaŋiŋpi” about the revitalization of the Lakota Language will be shown Wednesday, May 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Anishinabe Academy, 3100 28th Avenue South, in the auditorium. It is free an open to the public. Discussion to follow. Refreshments will be provided.

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