Federal Court Hears Arguments on Status of Reservation


Band, County make cases for partial summary judgment

Judge Susan Richard Nelson of the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, heard oral arguments March 16 on the Mille Lacs Band’s motion for partial summary judgment in its lawsuit against Mille Lacs County.

The Band filed a motion on February 1 asking the Court to rule that the Mille Lacs Reservation created in the Treaty of 1855 remains intact. Mille Lacs County also requested a partial summary judgment ruling that the Reservation no longer exists.

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 Band is seeking a declaration clarifying its inherent law enforcement authority and preventing the County from taking any actions that interfere with that authority.

The Court had earlier agreed to defer motions on the scope of the Mille Lacs Band’s law enforcement authority until the Court resolves the “issues relating to the status of the 1855 Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.“

In its arguments, the County repeated its longstanding claims that the 1855 Reservation was disestablished by subsequent treaties and the Nelson Act of 1889.

The Band’s attorney, Marc Slonim, argued that disestablishment of the Reservation requires clear Congressional intent, which was not expressed in those treaties, the Nelson Act, or any subsequent legislation.

The U.S. federal government recognizes the continued existence of the reservation and clarified that position in Solicitor’s Opinion M-37032, a 2015 legal opinion from the Secretary of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor.

The federal position was reaffirmed in an amicus brief filed by the United States on March 1.

The State of Minnesota declared its position that the reservation remains intact in an opinion from the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison in February of 2020.

The State also filed an amicus brief in support of the Band’s motion for partial summary judgment on February 8 of this year.

See pages 4 and 5 for more on the federal lawsuit and the boundary issue.