Aaniin! September was a very busy month with many meetings and developments, but I want to begin by addressing a Minnesota Chippewa Tribe matter. On September 12, the Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe held a special meeting to discuss federal legislation that would result in a land transfer from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe to each of the six Bands. This is a really critical issue for the Mille Lacs Band.
Between the years of 1887 and 1934, the U.S. government took more than 90 million acres, nearly two-thirds of all reservation lands in the United States, from the tribes without compensation and sold it to settlers. In later decades in Minnesota, federal funds were used to purchase a fraction of the stolen lands back for each of the six Bands. These lands were placed into federal trust status. This means that these lands are held in trust by the United States, which holds and protects the property for the benefit of an individual tribe or tribal members.
Even though various parcels of lands were purchased for the benefit of individual Bands, the name of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was included in the title. For instance, the title of many of our trust land parcels states that the federal government is holding the land in trust for “the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Mille Lacs Band." That practice of including the MCT on our land titles was stopped many years ago. For the past several decades, whenever a Band purchases lands that are placed into federal trust status, the title only includes the name of the individual Band, not the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Today, a significant percentage of the Mille Lacs Band’s federal trust lands include the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe on the title, as is the case with each of the other Bands as well, even though management of these lands is an autonomous authority carried out by the individual Bands, not the MCT.
This creates difficulties because there are extra federal bureaucratic approval processes we need to go through in order to use these trust lands for the benefit of our membership. When the Band wants to develop one of these parcels for a business or for a home, there are extra steps at the federal level that can take more than a year or even two years for the federal government to complete. This has created hardship for Band members wanting to purchase homes on these lands, especially when they have time constraints for using their home loans. This has also created problems for economic development on these trust lands.
The Tribal Executive Committee of the MCT went through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to seek approval to transfer all of these MCT titled lands to the individual Band that exercises jurisdiction over those lands, but the BIA concluded that it lacked authority to do so and advised the TEC that federal congressional legislation would be required in order to make this happen.
Last winter, the TEC approved a plan to seek federal legislation for this land transfer. The draft legislation calls for the United States to change the name of the tribal beneficiary of the trust lands from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe to just the name of the individual Band that exercises jurisdiction over those lands. The lands would still be protected and held in federal trust. Exterior MCT lands outside the reservation would be transferred to the reservation closest to these lands. For the Mille Lacs Band, most of our exterior lands are located in Districts II and III. This legislation would significantly improve housing opportunities for Band members.
Although the resolution approving the effort to seek legislation has already been passed, the White Earth Nation recently expressed concerns about the legislation and has reconsidered whether it wants its own MCT lands to be transferred to White Earth. Out of respect for White Earth, the Mille Lacs Band had our federal attorneys work with other attorneys to amend the legislation to add an "opt out" provision. This language will ensure that any Band that does not wish to participate in the land transfer does not need to do so. This "opt out" idea was discussed on September 12, and a motion was passed to add that language to the draft legislation.
During this discussion, other Mille Lacs Band-specific matters impacting Band members in District II were also raised by a TEC member from White Earth, which resulted in a long discussion that was not on the agenda. Band members will be receiving a letter in the near future that further addresses and explains these issues. The next TEC meeting is scheduled for October 30 at White Earth’s Shooting Star Casino, and interested Band members are encouraged to attend this meeting.
RAP, Federal, State updates
Many other important meetings took place in September, including a planning retreat with the Band Assembly about our Net Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP). The RAP is the plan that determines what percentages of our net gaming revenue are spent on various needs. Currently, our RAP allocates 25 percent to government programs and services, 35 percent to per capita, 15 percent to long-term savings, 8 percent to economic development, 7 percent to permanent initiative, 5 percent to Circle of Health, and 5 percent to housing initiative.
We made good progress toward discussing revisions to the plan, which is necessary to ensure that programs and services continue to be provided to Band members at the current level. While other Bands have experienced declining enrollment over the years, the Mille Lacs Band’s enrollment has consistently grown. Changes to the RAP are necessary to keep pace with enrollment.
On September 16, I attended a briefing at the invitation of Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), who chairs the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. Congresswoman McCollum is one of the most influential members of Congress regarding the federal budgets for the Interior Department as well as Health and Human Services, and has been a great friend and advocate not just for the Mille Lacs Band, but for all tribes.
I also attended a meeting of the Minnesota Board on Aging, and was happy to arrange for the board members to get a training about Federal-State-Tribal relations. Information about tribal sovereignty and the rights of Indian tribes was new for many of the board members.
That same week, I attended the ceremonial signing by Governor Walz of the Minnesota Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The task force consists of 27 members whose primary duties are to write a report with legislative recommendations on how to reduce and end violence against Indigenous women and girls in Minnesota.
The law requires the task force to provide the report by December 15, 2020. This signing ceremony was an emotional moment for all in attendance. For too long, there has been little if any attention paid to the disproportionate number of missing and murdered American Indian women and girls in our country. I was heartened by Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan’s commitment to looking at ways to end this crisis.
Finally, as I write this column, I’m about to get on a bus to travel with Elders on a trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin. While we are there, we plan to visit LaPointe, on Madeline Island, where the Treaty of 1854 was signed. This important treaty established the first Ojibwe reservations in Wisconsin along with Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Bois Forte reservations in Minnesota, and stipulated the rights of those Bands to hunt, gather, and fish in the ceded territories in perpetuity. It is always rejuvenating to spend time with Band elders.
I hope Band families are able to get outside and enjoy the warm weather, and look forward to the beautiful fall colors that October will bring! Miigwech!