Weekend Reads: Land Back, a court win, and the latest Enbridge criticism

In this post:

  • Native Nations in Wisconsin get big property tax win
  • Wisconsin Point returned to Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • The hyperbole keeps coming from Enbridge and its backers

Native Nations in Wisconsin get big property tax win in court

Native Nations got a favorable court ruling as they and their members try to strengthen their land holdings inside their original reservation boundaries.

Originally, reservations had property tax immunity.

Through broken treaties, settlers acquired massive amounts of reservation lands. Once a settler owned the land, it went on the property tax roles.

The legal question before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was: If a Tribal members buys back lands inside the reservation from a non-Native person, does the land stay on the tax rolls or revert to its previous tax immunity?

The state of Wisconsin argued that “tribal lands forever lose that tax immunity when sold to non-Natives, even if those lands later come back under tribal ownership,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The issue came to a head when some members of Native Nations in Wisconsin were charged property tax on lands they bought inside their historic reservation boundaries from non-Indigenous owners, the Journal Sentinel said.

The Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeaun and Red Cliff bands of Lake Superior Chippewa sued to stop the practice.

They lost in District Court, but won at the Court of Appeals.

A quick explainer of how we got here:

Start with the federal Dawes Act of 1887. It allowed the government to break up communally-held reservation lands into parcels, typically 40 to 160 acres, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation explains. Then the government would distribute those plots to individual Indian families, (Similar laws would follow to promote private land ownership among specific Native Nations.)

After the U.S. government allotted the plots to families, there was invariably undistributed land left. The U.S. government declared it “surplus,” and it eventually got sold to settlers.

U.S. Department of the Interior 1911 ad offering ‘Indian Land for Sale’. Image: U.S. Department of the Interior

Communal ownership would have protected all Indian families from losing their land,even if they went into debt.

Now, for individual Indian families, the only asset they had was their land allotment. Many families lost their land because they went into debt and had to sell it.

Native Nations weren’t consulted, and didn’t agree with the Dawes Act. It was unilaterally imposed by Congress.

Following the Dawes Act, Indian land holdings “plunged from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres by 1934,” the Indian Land Tenure Foundation said.

The once-intact reservations now look like a “checkerboard,” with various parcels owned by Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous peoples, businesses, and state, local, and federal governments.

Native Nations and organizations, such as the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, are working to buy back land within historic reservation boundaries to “return Indian lands to Indian hands.”

The court ruling says that as that land is returned, they don’t have to pay state and local property tax on it.

After a century, Wisconsin Point returned to Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Wisconsin Point, a sacred Indigenous burial ground, has been returned to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, multiple news outlets report.

Parties celebrated at the Black Bear Casino, just west of Duluth, to mark the transfer of ownership Thursday, CBS reported.

Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Dupuis said the land return doesn’t right historic wrongs, but he acknowledged “that it’s cause to celebrate, now that the land is back in the hands of its original owners,” reported WSAW of Wausau, Wisc.

“We know we can’t return to the past, but we can bring the past forward to the present,” he said.

Red dot is Wisconsin Point. Park Point extends down from Duluth and they nearly touch. Image: Screen grab from Google maps.

Those attending included Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Gov. Tim Walz, and Bryan Newland, the U.S. Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary

The Fond du Lac Band is located in Carlton County, Minn., and doesn’t have a land connection to Wisconsin Point. (With the land back, that seems to be a good problem to have.)

Wisconsin Point is a 229-acre freshwater sandbar outside of Superior, Wisc.

The Fond du Lac Band migrated there about 400 years ago, according to a 2021 Wisconsin Public Radio story: “At least seven generations were laid to rest at the Wisconsin Point cemetery, including the community’s leader Chief Joseph Osaugie,” it said.

Both the living and the dead were evicted “to make way for U.S. Steel’s plans to erect ore docks that were never built,” CBS reported.

Around 1918, nearly 200 Ojibwe graves were moved to St. Francis cemetery in Superior, Wisc.

“Superior City Council President Jenny Van Sickle says it [the land return] doesn’t fix the past, but returning that land is a huge step toward reconciliation,” WSAW reported. “Van Sickle is Superior’s first indigenous City Council President, and a driving force in getting that land returned.”

The hyperbole keeps coming from Enbridge and its backers

Sharing a link to a piece I wrote for MinnPost about Enbridge’s latest smoke-and-mirrors PR gambit.

In brief, Enbridge promised that 50 percent of the jobs building the Line 3 crude oil pipeline would go to Minnesotans.

Enbridge’s final jobs report said 46 percent of jobs went to Minnesotans. It failed to mention that Minnesota workers only had 32 percent of total hours worked.

Article here.

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