White Earth Conservation Project Gains Traction; This Day in History: Minneapolis City Council’s “Dakota” Resolution

Today’s Star Tribune editorial “Lessard-Sams council should sustain momentum on White Earth project” came out in strong support of efforts to conserve 2,000 acres of wetlands, forest and prairie on what is now privately held land on the White Earth Reservation.

Part of the White Earth preservation project.
Part of the White Earth preservation project.

The Lessard-Sams council has recommended funding for this project in the past, only to get shot down in the legislature. Before getting into the politics of it, some quick history.

It’s important to know that only about 10 percent of the White Earth Reservation is in Indian hands. U.S. government assimilation policies in the 19th Century included efforts to break up communally held tribal lands. Through a policy known as “allotment,” the government took tribal lands and divided it among individual Indians. Among other things, that made it easier for settlers and business interests to buy it. One glaring example of how White Earth was cheated out of land by the timber industry is found in the article Ransom Powell and the Tragedy of White Earth in Minnesota History, and in our June 30 blog.)

The Potlach Company owns land on the White Earth Reservation and it wants to sell a chunk of it. (I don’t know the history of how it acquired this parcel.) According to the Strib editorial, the Lessard-Sams council has voted twice to approve $2.2 million to buy about 2,000 acres from Potlach for preservation. White Earth would buy the land and transfer it to a federal trust. The editorial explains that the project was included in a 2015 omnibus bill, but funding got stripped out at the end of the session.

A dubious explanation given — that the project would take the land off property rolls, an objection that hasn’t halted other projects that do the same — raised regrettable questions about bias toward American Indian communities.

In fact, Clearwater County where this project is located would only lose about $16,000 in property tax from the sale, a drop in the bucket of its overall budget. The White Earth project is back in the funding queue for 2016 and the push back against it already has begun.

Thanks to the Strib for a great editorial. Read the full version online.Thanks, too, to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation which has been supporting this project.

This Day in History: Minneapolis City Council “Year of the Dakota” Resolution

On this day in history three years ago, the Minneapolis City Council passed The Year of the Dakota resolution. This was on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War. The resolution designated December 26, 2012 to December 26, 2013 as “The Year of the Dakota: Remembering, Honoring, and Truth Telling.”

In addition to the special year-long designation, the City Council made longer term commitments. The resolution said:

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis works to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, including Dakota People.
Be It Further Resolved that these efforts during the years 2012 and 2013 will mark the beginning of future dialogues and efforts to rectify the wrongs that were perpetrated during, and since, the year 1862, a tragic and traumatic event for the Dakota People of Minnesota.
As is the way with resolutions, they are easier to make than to follow. In 2014, the Minneapolis City Council did pass a resolution recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, another important symbolic gesture. The question remains: How well is the City of Minneapolis doing at following its resolution to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, and make efforts to rectify wrongs?
Comments welcomed.