Wahkon Mayor Sandy Reichel plans to give some local Mille Lacs County issues a national stage during her visit to Washington D.C. for a regional leadership conference on Aug. 20.
Those issues revolve around the continued disputes between Mille Lacs County and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, which include ongoing lawsuits regarding a mutual aid agreement between the Band’s police officers and the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s office, a disagreement about the size of the Band’s reservation in the county, fishing regulations, and taxable parcels of land.
The conference Reichel will be attending includes local governments from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.
According to the White House, the conference is a way to open up a dialogue between local and federal governments in order to focus on shared priorities.
Reichel said she’s excited about the opportunity to attend the conference in the Dwight Eisenhower Government Affairs building on the White House complex, which will include a tour of the east wing of the White House.
“It’s not just to shake hands and take away White House napkins kind of thing, you get a little more time to actually converse with them and share concerns,” said Reichel.
Reichel, with the backing of the Wahkon City Council, is particularly worried about falling under the Band’s jurisdiction if the courts uphold treaties that would increase the current size of the reservation.
“No matter what anyone says, this will affect our community. It will affect us, if all of sudden, poof, the reservation is magically back there,” said Reichel, who later added, “I have every right to feel just as passionately as I do about that [as the Band does].”
Reichel cited concerns regarding sovereignty, restrictive fishing regulations and general jurisdiction disputes as possible conflicts if the Band wins their lawsuit against the county.
In an opinion piece by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe that was published May 16, 2019 in the Mille Lacs Messenger, the Band asserted that the only outcome of the court agreeing with the Band would be the Band’s police department continuing to provide law enforcement services on the reservation.
“The Band is not seeking authority to try and punish non-Indians. It is not seeking authority to regulate non-Indian fishing on Mille Lacs Lake. It is not seeking authority to tax, zone or regulate non-Indians. It is not seeking to expand federal or Band environmental authority,” read the statement.
The Band added that if the county succeeds in the lawsuit, other tribes may increase pressure to fish in the southern part of Mille Lacs Lake.