U.S. sides with Band in lawsuit


Court accepts amicus brief supporting reservation boundaries

The United States filed an amicus (“friend of the court“) brief on March 1 supporting the Mille Lacs Band’s motion for partial summary judgment in its lawsuit against Mille Lacs County. The State of Minnesota filed an amicus brief in the case on February 8.

The U.S. motion requesting permission to file its brief, which was unopposed by the Band and the County, reads in part: “The United States respectfully requests leave to file the attached proposed amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment that the Boundaries of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, as Established in 1855, Remain Intact.“

The federal amicus brief affirms the arguments that the Band has made for decades and that the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor made in Solicitor’s Opinion M-37032 in 2015. Those arguments were also affirmed in the State’s amicus brief.

The federal brief responds directly to Mille Lacs County’s main arguments: that the Treaties of 1863 and 1864 and the Nelson Act diminished and disestablished the Mille Lacs Reservation as created by the Treaty of 1855.

It explains that the 1863 and 1864 Treaties, which compelled several other Indian bands to relocate, declared the Mille Lacs Band’s right to remain on the reservation due to its conduct during the Dakota War of 1862, when Mille Lacs Band leaders chose not to join the conflict.

The brief stresses that clear Congressional intent is required to diminish or disestablish a reservation — a legal principle the Supreme Court reaffirmed in its decision last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma, ruling that the Muskogee (Creek) Reservation in eastern Oklahoma remains as Indian Country because it was never disestablished by Congress.
The County also claims that the Nelson Act of 1889 disestablished the Mille Lacs Reservation, but the federal brief stresses that the Act allowed Mille Lacs Band members to take allotments on the reservation, showing that it was not a clear attempt by Congress to disestablish the reservation.

Oral arguments on the motion for summary judgment were heard on March 16. See page 1 for more on the oral arguments.