Mille Lacs County sends letter to Gov. Walz and Attorney General Ellison

Announced and discussed at the Feb. 2 Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners meeting was a letter drafted by the Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh and former county administrator Pat Oman to Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. The letter addressed the lack of notification to the County on the installation of the 1855 Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe boundary signs surrounding the original 61,000 acres.

Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh said, “We would like the Governor and attorney general to come up and address the people who live here and hear from the people who would be impacted by their decision on the boundaries.”

Commissioner Dave Oslin asked if Walsh felt comfortable sending the current version of the letter out.

Walsh responded by stating, “This letter does strike a balance, and these concerns come directly out of the House research.” A copy of the Minnesota House research titled “American Indians, Indian Tribes, and State Government” can be found here.

The letter from Mille Lacs County to Gov. Walz and attorney general Ellison begins by stating, “Many Mille Lacs County residents independently informed us about the new Department of Transportation road signs that were installed to mark the boundary of the 1855 Reservation. We are very disappointed that these road signs were installed without any collaboration with, or communication to, Mille Lacs County.”

The letter went on to say that the County understands the road signs are a direct result of Walz and Ellison’s decision to change the State’s long held opinion on the current boundary. “The pattern of our own State and Federal government refusing to provide us information or collaborate with us regarding something that significantly impacts Mille Lacs County residents is concerning,” the letter stated about the State’s actions and the federal actions to withhold information regarding the federal opinion from the County in 2015 and 2016.

The letter then states that many residents of northern Mille Lacs County are concerned about the changing legal and regulatory environment that may take place if the 1855 Reservation boundary is re-established. The letter states, “As this 157-page document describes, these issues are very complex. Some answers are not entirely clear and dependent on future developments, both legal and administrative at the State or Federal level. The consequences of other actions, such as the possibility of retrocession pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1323, would also be significantly different depending on the boundary of the reservation.”

Other highlights included the statement that “There is ample evidence that the re-establishment of the 1855 treaty boundary could significantly impact Minnesota citizens living and owning property within the area.” The letter lists environmental regulations, law enforcement and prosecution as possible changes.

Specifically regarding policing and prosecution, the letter states: “Another concern that many residents of northern Mille Lacs County have is provision of law enforcement services and the potential of being criminally prosecuted in tribal court. We understand that this is not something the Mille Lacs Band can currently do and that they say they have no plans to do so. However, it does not go unnoticed that just days ago ten former United States attorneys, including Thomas Heffelfinger, drafted an Amici Curiae brief in a current Ninth Circuit case on appeal to the Supreme Court addressing the authority of tribal law enforcement, co-authored by former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Eric Magnuson. In doing so, the brief sets forth in detail the perceived shortcomings the current ‘Maze of Injustice’ resulting from ‘widely varying potential sources of substantive criminal law and byzantine rules for their application.’ U.S. v. Cooley, No. 19-1414, Amici Curiae brief dated January 15, 2021 at 18-25. Importantly, this brief cites with approval  the findings of the Indian Law and Order Commissioner (ILOC). ID. at 9 (citing ILOC, A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer, Report to the President and Congress of the United States (November 2013, available here).

“The ILOC Roadmap requests that all tribes be allowed to ‘opt out’ of all state or federal criminal jurisdiction within their reservation and ‘be restored to their inherent authority to prosecute and punish offenders.’ ILOC Roadmap, Ch.1 at 23 (noting all ‘work-arounds’ like cooperative agreements should be rejected). This would apply to ‘all persons within the exterior boundaries of the Tribe’s lands as defined in the Federal Indian Country Act.’ The only concession required would be a promise to ‘afford all individuals charged with a crime with civil rights protections equivalent to those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,’ appellate review by a new Article III Federal Court, and the Federal habeas corpus remedies … If this policy position is adopted as law, the re-establishment of the 1855 reservation boundary would be a monumental change for the residents of northern Mille Lacs County.”

The letter closes by a call to action in the form of a town hall forum by Gov. Walz to provide concerned residents an opportunity to express their concerns, adding that given the COVID-19 pandemic, a remote meeting would be acceptable.

A copy of the letter in its entirety can be found with this story.

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