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
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The Bois Forte Land Back backstory

The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa acquired 28,000 acres of land within its traditional reservation boundaries this month, in what Native News Online describes as “the largest land-back agreement in Minnesota and one of the largest-ever in Indian Country.”

“The Bois Forte Band plans to directly manage the restored lands under a forest management plan that emphasizes conservation and environmental protection, balanced with economic and cultural benefits to the Band and its members,” the article said.

The headlines are calling this “historic” or that the tribe is “celebrating” the return of land. While true, this land-back story deserves context: An explanation of why Bois Forte needed to get its land back in the first place.

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Blood Quantum, Part II: The Indian New Deal and Tribal Constitutions

Part I discussed why blood quantum rules, often a criteria for Tribal citizenship, are seen as an existential Tribal threat. Part II discusses constitutional reforms to change that rule.

John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, meets with South Dakota Blackfoot Indian chiefs in 1934 to discuss the Indian Reorganization Act. Photo: Unknown

To recap Part I: The 1887 Dawes “General Allotment” Act was devastating to Native Nations, an assimilation policy that imposed private land ownership and capitalism on communal societies centered around reciprocity. The law broke up community-held Tribal lands into small parcels and allotted them to individual Indians and families.

The Allotment era ended with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, an effort to reverse such assimilation policies.

Passed under FDR’s administration, it’s referred to as the Indian New Deal. (It’s still the basis for federal law regarding Indian affairs.)

The Indian New Deal stopped allotments, restored Tribal land management, and sought to strengthen inherent Tribal sovereignty. It encouraged Tribes to write their own constitutions.

Today, roughly 70 percent of Tribal constitutions define citizenship using the colonial idea of blood quantum, according to attorney Gabe Galanda, a member of the Round Valley Indian Confederation of Northern California.

As Tribal members have intermarried with people from other Tribes or non-Indigenous people, children’s blood quantum often drops below the threshold to be considered a Tribal member.

Native Nations are wrestling with whether to eliminate blood quantum rules.

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PUC allows Enbridge to save hundreds of millions of dollars by shifting burden to future Minnesotans, and more

In this blog:

  • PUC allows Enbridge to save hundreds of millions of dollars by shoving future pipeline cleanup costs onto Minnesotans
  • Non violent treaty camp makes important statement, gets little media coverage
  • Help protect wild rice from mining pollution
  • This Day in History June 18, 1934: The Indian “New Deal” stops privatization of Indian lands
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This Day in History (Feb. 8, 1887): Dawes Act Forces Assimilation, Leads to Massive Indian Land Theft

On this day in history, Congress passed the Dawes Act which both forced indigenous peoples to assimilate into a system of private property ownership and effectively stole millions of acres of what should have been treaty-protected lands.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Dawes Act allowed the government to divide up communally held reservation lands into individual parcels, up to 160 acres for a head of household, according to Wikipedia.

The law’s deceit was that there was plenty of acreage left over  after individual allotments were made. The law allowed the government sell off this so-called “surplus” land.

The poster to the right says it all. Continue reading

This Day in History (Feb. 8, 1887): Dawes Act Forces Assimilation, Leads to Massive Indian Land Theft

On this day in history, Congress passed the Dawes Act which both forced indigenous peoples to assimilate into a system of private property ownership and effectively stole millions of acres of what should have been treaty-protected lands.

Continue reading

This Day in History: Nelson Act Breaks Treaties, Steals Anishinaabe Land in Minnesota, Forces Assimilation

On this day in history, Jan. 14, 1889, Congress approved “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota.Not surprisingly, that’s a euphemism. The act did not provide relief. Quite the opposite, it violated treaties, forced assimilation, and stole Native lands. Continue reading

This Day in History 1887: A Major Assault on Native Land and Lifeways

On this day in history, February 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Act, perhaps the most significant single piece of legislation to force American Indians to assimilate to western culture. Also known as the General Allotment Act, this law had at least two major lines of attack.

First, it enforced the concept of private land ownership. Tribes held their lands in common. The Dawes Act broke reservation lands into smaller tracts of 40 acres to 160 acres and allotted it to individuals and families.

Second, tribes lost massive amounts of land under the Dawes act, lands that were opened for white settlement. The Indian Land Tenure Foundation explains:

If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, the federal government could negotiate to purchase the land from the tribes and sell it to non-Indian settlers. As a result, 60 million acres were either ceded outright or sold to the government for non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as “surplus lands.”

For comparison, the land loss was larger than the state of Minnesota (which is the 12th largest state in the nation, and has approximately 56 million acres of land and water.) Some estimates of Native land loss are higher. An Indian Country Today 2012 article headlined: The Dawes Act Started the U.S. Land-Grab of Native Territory put the loss at 90 million acres, or two-thirds of all Native-held lands prior to the Dawes Act.

The article said:

The Dawes Act was one of the most effective implementations of the colonial and imperialist strategy against Indigenous Peoples of divide-and-conquer—a strategy that combines political, military and economic tactics to gain power over another power by breaking it up into individual units that are powerless to resist domination. It was also an act of lawfare—a relatively new term for an old phenomenon: warfare by legal means. It makes “what was illegal legal,” according to Philip Giraldi, a writer and former CIA military intelligence officer.

TPT offered the following nugget about the bill’s author, Congressman Henry Dawes.

[Dawes] once expressed his faith in the civilizing power of private property with the claim that to be civilized was to “wear civilized clothes…cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whiskey [and] own property.”


Relocating Capitol Art Is Not Censorship; This Day in History: Teddy Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address Aims to Undo Tribes

The debate over art in the State Capitol is getting more media traction and one of main arguments used by advocates of the status quo is that moving the art amounts to censorship.

Censorship is an emotionally triggering word, and it gets the juices flowing, but this is not censorship.

The latest media coverage comes from a Dec. 1 John Tevlin column in the StarTribune headlined: With Capitol under renovation, debate begins on which art is appropriate when it reopens. The column opens putting the spotlight on the Anton Gag painting, “The Attack on New Ulm,” part of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

The column starts with a conversation with George Glotzbach, former member of the board of the Brown County Historical Society. Both he and his wife, Sharon, “had ancestors who were ‘inside the barricades’ during the battle with Dakota Indians in 1862 and nearly killed.” Sharon is president of the Wanda Gag House Association (daughter of Anton). Here’s what George had to say:

“I have an agenda on this just like the Indians have an agenda,” said Glotzbach. “This thing hit us like a ton of bricks when we found out that the ‘Attack on New Ulm’s painting was on the hit list. I see this as nothing more and nothing less than censorship … ”

This is not censorship. Those of us pushing to remove some of the art from the Capitol want it in a museum where it can get better interpretation and discussion. The fact is, conversations about the meaning of the art and Minnesota history rarely if ever happen in the Capitol. People are too busy with other agendas. These issues need much more dialogue.

Here are today’s letters to the editor about Tevlin’s column, including one I wrote trying to make the “this-is-not-censorship” point.

This Day in History: Teddy Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Aims at Breaking Up Tribes

On December 3, 1901, Teddy Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech to Congress. It makes reference to the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, which authorized the government to survey community-owned tribal lands and divide it up for individual ownership.

Here is part of Roosevelt’s speech:

In my judgment the time has arrived when, we should definitely make up our minds to recognize the Indian as an individual and not as a member of a tribe. The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual. Under its provisions some sixty thousand Indians have already become citizens of the United States. We should now break up the tribal funds, doing for them what allotment does for the tribal lands ; that is, they should be divided into individual holdings. … The effort should be steadily to make the Indian work like any other man on his own ground.