Pact gives 3 Minnesota tribes stronger voice on land ceded in 1854

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — The Superior National Forest and three Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota have signed an agreement that gives the bands a stronger voice in managing natural resources on land that they ceded to the federal government nearly 170 years ago.

The agreement protects the treaty rights of the Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Bois Forte bands within the territory they gave up in 1854 in exchange for hunting, fishing and gathering rights. More than 3 million acres of the ceded territory — about half of it — fall inside the national forest, which covers a huge swath of northeastern Minnesota. The tribes have about 9,000 enrolled members combined.

“These bands have been on this landscape from time immemorial, connected to the work of how we sustain these lands,” Tom Hall, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. “This is really us standing shoulder to shoulder with the bands, knowing we’re going to face issues and making sure we’re having the right conversations early and together.”

The memorandum of understanding, signed earlier this month, recognizes the sovereign tribes as original stewards of that land and outlines ways to ensure that tribal input is included early in decisions made by the Forest Service, including those that impact treaty rights, or restoration and other activities such as prescribed burns. It stipulates training from both sides, coordination with the bands on management priorities, and provisions for protection of culturally sensitive areas within the forest.

“It’s been 169 years since the signing of the 1854 Treaty. (The treaty) says shared resources — that is true today,” Fond du Lac Band Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. said in a statement. “Our Tribal leadership has an obligation to the ones who came before us, and we are here today to make sure that our unborn can exercise our inherent rights given to use by the Creator.”

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota have a similar agreement.