LEECH LAKE, Minn. — More than 11,000 acres of land wrongly transferred to the Chippewa National Forest in the 1940s and 1950s will soon be returned to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Leech Lake Reservation Restoration Act, a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and state Rep. Betty McCollum. The bill previously passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in June 2019, and will now go to the White House for the president’s signature.
This 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, a release said.
Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson celebrated the longstanding effort, citing it as a win for treaty rights.
“Our reservation was established through a series of treaties and executive orders from 1855 to 1874, which promised that it would serve as our permanent homeland. The United States violated these solemn promises repeatedly, reducing our trust lands to 5% of our initial reservation,” Jackson said about the land in question. “Additional lands were illegally transferred out of trust in the 1940s and 50s. The Leech Lake Restoration Act focuses on these illegal transfers by restoring 11,760 acres of our homelands to tribal trust status.”
Jackson said the tribe plans to work with the Chippewa National Forest, and that the re-acquired land will be used to meet the immediate needs of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
“Restoring this small portion of our homelands will enable us to combat the lack of housing and related problems that have been highlighted as urgent needs by the ongoing pandemic,” Jackson said. “Passage of this bill helps restore a sense of justice that generations of Leech Lakers have worked to achieve. Our entire community rejoices today.”
The bill summary says that “immediately upon transfer, the federal land shall be held in trust for the benefit of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and considered as a part of its reservation.” The land will not become eligible or be used for gaming activities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The bill also gives a brief history of why the land was stolen in the mid-20th century. “The Federal land was taken from members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe during a period beginning in 1948; during which the Bureau of Indian Affairs incorrectly interpreted an order of the Secretary of the Interior to mean that the Department of the Interior had the authority to sell tribal allotments without the consent of a majority of the rightful landowners; and ending in 1959, when the Secretary of the Interior was advised that sales were illegal.”
Sen. Smith and Rep. McCollum said the passage of the bill has been a long time coming and is a step in the right direction.
“I want to recognize the decades of work that Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe put into making this possible,” Smith saud. “This historic win belongs to them and future generations who will benefit.”
“The tribal leaders of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe entrusted Sen. Smith and I with advancing this legislation that builds on their diligent work, open dialogue, and collaboration with the Chippewa National Forest and local communities,” McCollum said. “With its passage, our federal government is taking a significant step toward addressing the historic injustices that robbed the Band of much of their reservation land.”