Ojibwe bands, Superior National Forest sign 'co-stewardship' agreement
The memorandum of understanding is the first of its kind.
GRAND PORTAGE — Officials of three northern Minnesota Ojibwe bands and the U.S. Forest Service have signed an agreement giving the bands "co-stewardship” over much of the 3.3 million-acre Superior National Forest.
Officials of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage bands of Lake Superior Chippewa signed the agreement with Forest Service officials May 3 to provide for co-stewardship and protection of the three band’s treaty-reserved rights under the 1854 Treaty.
On Sept. 30, 1854, the bands entered into a treaty with the United States whereby they ceded to the U.S. ownership of their lands in Northeastern Minnesota, but retained their inherent rights to hunt, fish and gather in the area outlined under the treaty.
The 1854 ceded territory includes about 6.2 million acres across Northeastern Minnesota. It’s one of several treaties that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as express recognition of the government-to-government relationship between the bands and the U.S.
Officials said the agreement is the first of its kind among the bands and the Superior National Forest.
Chairwoman Cathy Chavers, of the Bois Forte Band, Chairperson Kevin Dupuis, Sr., of the Fond du Lac Band, and Chairman Robert Deschampe, of the Grand Portage Band, signed the memorandum of understanding with Forest Service Regional Forester Gina Owens and Superior National Forest Supervisor Tom Hall.
The Forest Service already has been consulting with the tribes to get their input into decisions and policy on timber management, recreational use, development and access issues. But the agreement formalizes how that relationship will strengthen over time, Hall said.
“The memorandum of understanding serves as a framework to have a meaningful relationship to ensure they can exercise those treaty rights on all aspects” of forest management, Hall told the News Tribune on Monday. “To ensure that we have the right conversations with the bands early on as we go through the decision-making process” in forest management.
The agreement “recognizes the bands as original stewards of lands now encompassing the Superior National Forest and outlines procedures to ensure that tribal input is meaningfully incorporated into Forest Service decision-making,” the Forest Service noted in announcing the agreement.
That includes “robust processes” for meaningful and early tribal consultation on Forest Service decisions that may impact the bands’ treaty-reserved rights. It also includes provisions for designation and protection of culturally sensitive areas within the national forest, coordination on forest management objectives and joint tribal-Forest Service training.
“It’s historic with three bands within the 1854 Treaty area coming together as one,” said Chavers in a prepared statement. “We, as tribal leaders, are charged with caring for our natural resources. This includes our elders and youth. We also must think of the next seven generations by building partnerships and strengthening relationships to work together to achieve that common goal. Chi miigwech — we are very thankful to everyone involved in finalizing the MOU.”
April McCormick, secretary/treasurer of the Grand Portage Band, said the Forest Service “has a trust responsibility to our current generation, our children and those not yet born who will recognize their inherent ... rights guaranteed by treaty.”
“The signing today is a commitment, a call to action for the U.S. Forest Service, that when we sign this piece of paper with words on it, that it is not just going to stay a piece of paper with words, that we are going to live out that commitment to each other,” McCormick said in a prepared statement. “We are leading alongside one another to enhance and protect our treaty reserved resources within the 1854 ceded territory and the Superior National Forest.”
Forest Service officials said neither the public nor media were notified in advance of the singing event at the request of tribal officials.
The Grand Portage band already has been reestablishing stronger connections to Isle Royale on Lake Superior. While not covered by a treaty per se, the island National Park’s management has been working with the band to renew historic tribal uses and rights in and around the island, including hunting and fishing. The Grand Portage tribal flag began flying on the island after an August 2021 ceremony marking the historic Ojibwe presence and use of Isle Royale long before it became a national park in 1940.
The formal agreement is also intended to fulfill the objectives in the Joint Secretarial Order on Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters issued in November 2021 by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That order commits to using agreements as a tool to foster cooperation on protection of treaty and subsistence rights and taking action to ensure that tribes play an integral role in decision-making related to the management of federal lands and waters.