Federal government to return (some) stolen lands to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Part of an occasional series highlighting examples of truth telling, education, and reparations with Indigenous and African American communities

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe holds less of its original reservation lands than any other Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota. In fact, Leech Lake suffered more land loss than most other reservations in the United States due the efforts by lumber barons to get their hands on the band’s prized timber lands.

The federal government has a trust responsibility to Native Americans. Historically, it deemed Native American “incompetent” to manage their own affairs. The government was supposed to protect Native nations and their lands from fraud and abuse. In fact, the government actively participated in undermining treaty obligations and facilitated land sell-offs to private business interests.

This year, Congress approved a bill to return some 17 square miles to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, lands that had been “wrongly transferred” to the Chippewa National Forest, according to the Pioneer Press.

Chippewa National Forest. Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

A Leech Lake tribal news release said: “The land restoration is the culmination of years of effort and will honor tribal sovereignty, allowing the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to invest in future generations and build more housing to accommodate their community.”

This is not charity. This is justice.

This is an act to be celebrated and a history to be mourned. While 17 square miles might seem like a lot, it’s a very small measure of repair given the amount of land stolen under the federal Dawes, Nelson, Morris, and Burke Acts of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Continue reading

White Community Silence in the Theft of Land, Oil from Native Peoples

People in power have a history of taking advantage of Native Americans to profit from their land and natural resources, including oil. It is not just the rich and powerful, however. In order for these things to happen, the majority community has to give its approval, even if it is just through its silence.

Today, large energy companies are pushing for crude oil pipeline projects that affect Native peoples, and do so without their consent. The pipelines cross sacred lands, sacred waters, and/or areas where Native peoples have reserved hunting and fishing rights. Two current examples are the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota and Enbridge Line 3, a proposal to expand and reroute a tar sands oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.

Native American peoples are small in number and do not have a strong political voice. Standing up to large companies, powerful interests, and unsympathetic communities is an uphill battle, with an ugly history.

Continue reading

Black Hills Sacred Site Sparks Strong Words, Legal Battle

The Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) Nations successfully purchased a small chunk of land in the Black Hills, land sacred to their people. But they still face battles, both over the land’s legal status and white politician’s condescending attitudes.

A quick historical recap: The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 affirmed Lakota ownership of the Black Hills and closed it to whites. Whites came illegally anyway, found gold, and provoked a war. By 1877, less than 10 years after the treaty, the U.S. government claimed the Black Hills, forcing the Lakota off their sacred lands onto much less productive land.

In 2012, a group of Native nations raised $9 million to buy 2,300 acres in the Black Hills at the sacred site known as Pe’ Sla. So far, so good.

At this point, the government can classify the land in one of two categories: trust status or fee status. Under trust status,the federal government technically owns the land and holds it in trust for the Native nation. The nation has sovereignty on the trust lands and does not pay taxes. If the land is in fee status, it means the tribe owns the land but has to pay property taxes on it (in this case, about $80,000 a year) and state laws, not tribal sovereignty, applies.

Determining the land status is a lengthy process. The Oceti Sakowin Nation has applied to put the land in trust status. The state of South Dakota is officially opposing the request, and doing so in patronizing terms. Continue reading