St. Louis County Board gives final approval to Fond du Lac land saleSt. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday gave final approval to selling two parcels of county forest land to the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa more than a year after blocking the same sales.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday gave final approval to selling two parcels of county forest land to the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa more than a year after blocking the same sales.
The 94 acres are within the current boundaries of the Fond du Lac Reservation in Stony Brook and Brevator townships.
The band will pay the county about $150,000 for the two parcels, with the money to be divided among the state, county, school districts and local governments.
Last year the board took two stands against increased Indian-owned land within the reservation, first ordering its land commissioner not to negotiate with the band to sell county land. The board also sent a formal letter to state and federal officials opposing the sale of private land within the reservation to the band if the land would be taken off county tax rolls and placed in federal trust.
Commissioner Dennis Fink said his opposition had been to the loss of tax revenues from such sales, not to selling land to the band. Fink noted that placing land in Indian trust would reduce the amount of taxable land in the county and spread the tax burden on the remaining landowners.
Opponents to trust land note that 63 percent of the county is already in county, state or federal government control and not paying property taxes.
But supporters of the band’s efforts to reacquire its reservation land say Fond du Lac should be given the right to rebuild its reservation for housing, hunting, traditional harvesting and other activities. Supporters of the land sale held a rally on the county courthouse steps last year expressing anger at what some felt were racist remarks and actions by some commissioners.
Commissioner Steve O’Neil of Duluth said it was “ironic” that Fond du Lac and other Ojibwe people once occupied all of St. Louis County, agreed to give it up for a permanent reservation and now are being forced to buy back that same reservation land.
Increasing Indian-owned land within the reservation boundaries is a top priority of the Fond du Lac tribal government. The band in recent years has acquired 3,000 acres of former Potlatch Co. land and has sought to buy other private and county lands as they become available. State law offers the band the first chance to buy county forest land if it is for sale.
In 1854, the band controlled more than 100,000 acres within reservation boundaries in Carlton and St. Louis counties. Now, less than one-third is in official reservation trust status. Much of the land was taken or bought back in the late 1800s and early 1900s and sold or given to white settlers, railroads and lumber barons.
It remains unclear whether the County Board will reverse its stand opposing tribal trust status for Fond du Lac lands purchased from private landowners.