Joint meeting between Beltrami County and Leech Lake discusses histories, opportunities for collaboration

Featured photo: Leech Lake Tribal Council Member LeRoy Staples-Fairbanks III, left, accepts a gift from Beltrami County Board of Commissioners Chair Tim Sumner, at the joint meeting held Tuesday at Ten Lake Town Hall.

The Beltrami County Board met with representatives from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in what is likely the first formal joint meeting between the two entities.

Board Chair Tim Sumner and Leech Lake District 3 Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III gave opening and closing remarks acknowledging the historic gathering after an invocation by Leech Lake elder Mike Smith, Sr.

Leech Lake jointly meets with Cass County on an annual basis, and the two bodies agreed to move forward with establishing a similar routine.

While no formal action was taken during the joint meeting, one discussion held included Leech Lake’s efforts to claim back some of the lands within the boundaries of the reservation.

Beltrami Commissioner Jim Lucachick asked how much of the lands of the Leech Lake Reservation the tribe actually owns.

Leech Lake Environmental Director Ben Benoit explained that over the band’s history, numerous federal actions diminished tribal ownership of reservation lands.

Benoit highlighted the allotment era, where reservation lands were divided up among Indigenous families, with the non-allotted Indian lands sold or granted to timber and railroad companies and others.

Over time, the tribal allotments were claimable by dozens of heirs, making these parcels largely unusable to the tribe because of the difficulty in gaining landowner permission from the multiple heirs.

The Chippewa National Forest carved further into the reservation by claiming these parcels that, on paper, were unclaimed.

Legislation passed about two years ago that transfers ownership of some Cass County parcels in the Chippewa National Forest back to Leech Lake.

Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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