Lake Mille Lacs: Treaties and Cession


Earliest known photo of Mille Lacs Ojibwe, 1885.

– 1837: The Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe sign a treaty ceding their homeland to the U.S. government based on faulty maps. This treaty protects the band’s rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the small area of ceded land, but also allows the land to be settled by non-Indians.

– 1855: The Mille Lacs band signs a treaty setting aside 61,000 acres in the southeastern area of the lake as its reservation. These are the same 61,000 acres that make up the reservation today. This treaty also opens the land to the north to the waiting timber crews. Today, Mille Lacs County claims this treaty and the treaty of 1837 to be invalid, and they have repeatedly challenged the existence of the Mille Lacs Reservation in court.

Lumber camp north of Lake Mille Lacs, 1885.

– 1858: Minnesota joins the union, becoming the 32nd state.

– 1864: The Mille Lacs band receives a guarantee that they will never be forced to leave their reservation as a reward for defending non-Indians during the Dakota War which occurred two years previous.

– 1879: In direct contradiction with the guarantee of 1864, the U.S. Department of the Interior declares the Mille Lacs reservation available for purchase. Congress ends up reversing the decision, but only after squatters have stripped large areas of the reservations clear of Pine trees.

– 1880: The United States declares of policy of “assimilation,” stating that Indians must adapt to the lifestyles of non-Indians.

– 1889: The Nelson Act is passed by congress, seeking to move the Ojibwe to the White Earth reservation to the northwest. This act also allows the Ojibwe to take allotments on their own reservations.

Persons removed from Lake Mille Lacs at Big Elbow Lake, 1905.

– 1902: Representatives of the U.S. government visit the Mille Lacs reservation to negotiate an agreement for damages done to the Mille Lacs band. From 1889 to 1902, the U.S. government had broken a multitude of treaties, statutes and agreements previously made to the Mille Lacs band, and non-Indians exploiting the reservation’s natural resources beyond. Many band members go to White Earth during this period, and many more are harassed into¬†leaving. Disease also wipes out a substantial proportion of the reservation’s population. A group of just a few hundred, led by two steadfast chiefs (Migizi and Wadena) stays on the Mille Lacs reservation into the beginning of the century.

– 1924: American Indians are recognized as U.S. citizens by an act of congress.

– 1930: Many Mille Lacs band children are sent to public boarding schools, where they are forbidden to speak their native language.

– 1934: The Indian Reorganization Act formally recognizes American Indian self-government. This act is intended to bring back Indian self-determination. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, comprised of six bands (Mille Lacs being one of them) forms.

Ojibwe women at Lake Mille Lacs, 1910

– 1946: The Indian Claims Commission is created to resolve land claims between Indian tribes and the U.S. government.

– 1952: The U.S. government adopts the Indian Termination and Indian Relocation policies, which oppose the idea of Indian self-government and return to the notion of total assimilation into non-Indian society.

– 1960s and 70s: Modern homes, public buildings, health services, and educational and social programs begin to appear on the reservation.

-1981: The Mille Lacs band inches towards self-governance, adopting a government with executive, judicial and legislative branches. This new form of organization greatly improves interactions between the band and the U.S. government.

– 1988: Congress passes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, recognizing the right of American Indians to own and operate casinos on their reservations.