"Across Indian Country, tribal nations are buying back their land one parcel at a time".
"In June 2022, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa nearly doubled the amount of land owned by the tribe. The Bois Forte's 3,600 enrolled members live in the northernmost reaches of Minnesota, amid a sprawling forest of aspen, birch, maple, and jack pine (bois forte is French for "strong wood"). The tribe's reservation includes three separate areas—Nett Lake, Vermilion, and Deer Creek. Most members live in Nett Lake, where the sapphire waters of the North Woods sustain some of the country's densest stands of wild rice, the Chippewa's sacred food.
As in many Native American reservations, the acreage within the Bois Forte's official boundaries is a mix of tribal lands, state lands, and non-Native private holdings. Across the United States, more than half the land within reservation boundaries is controlled by non-Indians—the result of 19th-century federal laws that allowed white settlers and corporations to snatch up reservation lands during western expansion. This is true for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, which owns less than half the area within the three sections of its reservation. The summer land sale was a major step in addressing that imbalance.
"As you can tell, with the Bois Forte here in Nett Lake, we don't own a lot of our land in our reservation boundaries," tribal chair Cathy Chavers told me as she pored over a large, outstretched map of the band's territories. I was in the tribe's drum-shaped government building—the lake waters sparkled outside the conference room window—watching Chavers and tribal staff review the recent land acquisitions. All the reclaimed acreage had once belonged to the tribe and its members, as established by two treaties that the Bois Forte Chippewa and the US government agreed to in the 1850s and 1860s. Then the US Congress passed the General Allotment Act of 1887, which divided and distributed reservation lands to tribal individuals and opened up the remaining "surplus" lands for purchase by non-Natives and corporations. And that's how the checkerboard of ownership happened and the jumble of different jurisdictions led to tension between tribal members and non-Natives living or working on reservation territory."