State sides with Band in lawsuit against County


The State of Minnesota petitioned the U.S. District Court on February 8 to file an amicus curiae (”friend of the court”) brief in the Band’s lawsuit against Mille Lacs County, the County Sheriff, and the County Attorney.

An amicus curiae brief allows an individual or organization that is not a party to a particular litigation to advise the court on a matter of law that affects the case.

The request from Attorney General Keith Ellison makes two points: (1.) That the Mille Lacs Reservation remains intact, as supported by McGirt v. Oklahoma, and (2.) that the State of Minnesota can accommodate a federal court decision recognizing the 1855 Reservation boundaries.

The State’s brief also supports the Band’s request for a summary judgment on the boundary issue, which is only one part of the Band’s lawsuit against Mille Lacs County.

The lawsuit alleges that the County, County Sheriff, and County Attorney restricted Band police officers from exercising police powers within the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, in a manner that was inconsistent with federal law defining the Band’s law enforcement authority.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court to declare that the Band has inherent sovereign authority to establish a police department and to authorize Band police officers to investigate violations of federal, state, and tribal law within the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation as established under the Treaty of 1855.

The lawsuit also seeks a declaration that under a Deputation Agreement between the Band and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as Special Law Enforcement Commissions held by some Band police officers, those officers have federal authority to investigate violations of federal law within the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation and to arrest suspects for violations of federal law.

Finally, the Band’s complaint requests that the Court stop the County from taking any actions that interfere with the authority of the Band’s police officers.

Lawsuit background

The lawsuit followed the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners’ resolution on June 21, 2016, revoking the law enforcement agreement that addresses the manner in which the Tribal Police Department executes law enforcement services under Minnesota law.

The county’s resolution also stated that ”Mille Lacs County rejects the conclusions of the M-Opinion” — a legal opinion issued in November 2015 by the Department of the Interior concluding that the 1855 Reservation boundaries are still intact, contradicting claims by the County (and, at times, the State) that the reservation was diminished and disestablished by subsequent treaties and laws.

On February 19, 2020, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, with the support of Governor Tim Walz, affirmed the federal government and Band position, saying the official position of the State of Minnesota is now that the 61,000-acre reservation exists and was never diminished or disestablished.

The County’s obsession with the boundaries, which have little effect on non-Indian residents of the County, led to a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the County against the Band. The suit was ultimately dismissed (after the County and Band spent over two million dollars on the case) because the County could not show that anyone had been harmed in any way by the Band’s position regarding the boundaries.

The Band’s lawsuit, on the other hand, claims that the Band and its police officers have been harmed by restrictions imposed on the Band’s police officers by the County Attorney and County Sheriff. Those restrictions were based in large part on the County’s repeated claim that the Reservation no longer exists. The restrictions placed severe limits on Tribal Police officers’ ability to fight crime during a period when drug trafficking was causing great harm to Band members and their families.


June 21, 2016: The Mille Lacs County Board votes to withdraw from the law enforcement agreement, and for the next two years the County Attorney and County Sheriff refuse to recognize the authority of Tribal Police to investigate violations of state law on the Reservation, at a time when the opioid crisis is resulting in a rash of overdoses and crime. (The Band and County approved a new agreement in September of 2018, but the County insisted on a provision in the new agreement providing that the agreement will terminate 90 days after the lawsuit comes to an end. Thus, if the Band were to drop its lawsuit, the law enforcement agreement would terminate, and things would be right back where they were from July 2016 until September 2018.)

November 17, 2017: Band files suit in U.S. District Court.

December 21, 2017: Mille Lacs County responds to the lawsuit filed by the Band with a counterclaim against Police Chief Sara Rice, Sergeant Derrick Naumann, Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin, Secretary/Treasurer Carolyn Beaulieu, and District Representatives Sandra Blake, David ’Niib’ Aubid, and Harry Davis. In the counterclaim, the County repeatedly states that the 1855 Reservation has been disestablished and denies that the Band’s inherent sovereign authority and federal Special Law Enforcement Commissions (SLECs) give its officers the right to exercise state law enforcement powers throughout the reservation.

May 18, 2018: Judge Susan Richard Nelson hears the Band’s motion to dismiss the counterclaim.

September 19, 2018: Judge Nelson grants the Band’s motion, meaning that the Band’s elected officials, as well as Chief Rice and Sgt. Naumann, are no longer defendants to a counterclaim in their individual or official capacities.

January 17, 2020: Mille Lacs County and the Mille Lacs Band file cross-motions regarding the County’s demand to see a confidential 2014 law enforcement report prepared by attorneys for the Band.

February 19, 2020: In response to a claim by County officials that the State must pay their attorney fees because the County was supporting the State’s position that the reservation boundaries no longer exist, Attorney General Keith Ellison, with the support of Gov. Tim Walz, reaffirms the boundaries of the Mille Lacs Reservation, clarifying what had previously been an inconsistent State position.

April 13, 2020: Judge Leo Brisbois rules that the Band does not need to share the 2014 law enforcement report with the County.

July 8, 2020: The County Attorney and Sheriff and the Band file cross-motions regarding the court’s subject matter jurisdiction to hear the Band’s case, whether the Band was harmed by the County Attorney and Sheriff’s interference with Band police authority, and whether the County Attorney and Sheriff are immune from the Band’s claims.

December 21, 2020: Judge Nelson grants the Band’s motion and denies the County Attorney and Sheriff’s motion. She rules that the court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear the Band’s case, that the actions of the County Attorney and Sheriff harmed the Band, and that the County Attorney and Sheriff are not immune from the Band’s claims.

January 19, 2021: The County Attorney and Sheriff file a notice of appeal of Judge Nelson’s December 21, 2020, decision.

February 1, 2021: All parties file cross-motions on the question whether the 1855 Reservation continues to exist. Judge Nelson is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the motions via zoom on March 15, 2021.