Ellison hears boundary comments


On Thursday, March 11, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his staff hosted a virtual town hall meeting at the request of the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners to address the issue of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe 1855 Reservation signs posted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Ellison stated that he is not responsible for what other Minnesota state departments do in the scope of their duties. He is responsible for legal issues.

Ellison and his staff fielded questions on other topics such as taxes, property values, jurisdiction, and environmental regulations and how they might be affected by the lawsuit filed by the Band against Mille Lacs County.

County Commissioner and Vice Chair Ginny Reynolds introduced the forum by saying it was called to address questions by county residents who were concerned about the appearance of signs marking the boundaries of the Reservation.

Twenty-one years ago, Mille Lacs County Attorney Janelle Kendall wrote that “widespread misinformation about the ability of the Mille Lacs Band to tax, prosecute, and zone non-Indians“ was creating unrest and giving rise to public safety issues in the County.

Commissioner Reynolds and her colleagues have had every opportunity to ease constituents’ concerns in the same way the Band has done over the decades, but the Board has instead repeatedly denied the existence of the Reservation and failed to address constituents’ unfounded fears.

For decades, the Band has addressed concerns regarding the reservation with the following statements:

— The Band cannot tax non-Indian land or non-Indians within the Reservation.
— The Band has no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians in tribal court.
— The Band cannot zone or regulate the use of non-Indian lands within the Reservation.
— Non-Indians own a large proportion of the land inside the borders of the Reservation, and the status of the Reservation does not affect their titles.

Some of the comments reflected a clear desire to reach out to the Band as allies, but many others expressed ignorance or unfounded fears.

Commissioner Dave Oslin, who represents the north end of the county and has denied the existence of the Reservation throughout his term, did not appear at the Town Hall meeting.