Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund
MARIE: This is Minnesota Native News. I’m Marie Rock.
This week on Minnesota Native News… The Minnesota Attorney General sides with tribal leaders in affirming that the Mille Lacs Band Indian Reservation still exists and has not been diminished…
And… We get an update on a major renovation… now approved for the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul.
First up… Minnesota’s attorney general has reversed a decades-old policy position and now the state affirms that the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation still exists.
According to Mille Lacs Band Of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin… the date Wednesday, Feb. 19th will go down in history… because on this date the official position of the State of Minnesota changed…. declaring that the reservation exists and was never diminished or re-established.
She said this means that quote “the State is in agreement that the original boundaries negotiated by our Tribal Leaders in 1855 are fully intact and always have been!” unquote
In a legal filing earlier this week, Attorney General Keith Ellison backed the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s assertion that 61-thousand acres across the south shore of Mille Lacs Lake… belong to the band.
Governor Tim Walz reportedly also supports Ellison’s move.
Ellison declared this position in a court filing… in response to a lawsuit filed against the State of Minnesota by elected officials of Mille Lacs County.
Mille Lacs County officials had argued that the State must pay their attorney fees in an ongoing dispute between the band and the county over who pays for law enforcement…. because the County was supporting the position that the reservation boundaries no longer exist.
Mille Lacs County officials believe the band has only a few thousand acres.
In this historical reversal… The State actually disputed the County’s request and wrote quote: “The County Attorney and County Sheriff are not acting on behalf of the State because the State’s position is that the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation has never been diminished or disestablished” unquote.
So, after years of contention whether the reservation or boundaries exist, it is now the position of State of Minnesota that the original boundaries negotiated by Tribal Leaders in 1855… are fully intact.
Mille Lacs County officials are reportedly warning of the impacts of the move, saying it may impact multiple government functions quote, “from business licenses to taxes to environmental regulations to perhaps southern-shore access to some of the lake’s prized walleye-fishing waters.” unquote.
But… Mille Lacs Band Of Ojibwe Chief Melanie Benjamin disagrees. She says the band has no authority or intent to impose business licenses or taxes on our non-Indian neighbors.
Benjamin said quote: “The EPA has exercised environmental jurisdiction on the reservation for many years without incident and there is no reason to expect this to change. Access to and regulation of the Mille Lacs walleye fishery also will not change” unquote.
Benjamin noted that while the acknowledgment changes nothing for non-native neighbors, it has great meaning to her people.
In other news, the American Indian Magnet school on the east side of St. Paul has school board approval for a multi-million dollar… major renovation.
According to the Star Tribune, the school was among multiple construction projects, which were approved by the St. Paul school board on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
The remodel was previously estimated to cost $23-point-one million dollars, but that price jumped to $53-point-three million dollars after an external review.
The sharp increase in price prompted the school board to reconsider plans to start from scratch and build a new school, priced at nearly $89 million dollars.
The community pushed back, however, concerned over how the new school would disconnect their neighborhood. The pow wow space would have also been moved to a location away from the school’s parking lot.
In the end, the school board sided with those concerns and approved the reconstruction.
The school board also approved plans for improvements to the Frost Lake Elementary, Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet, and the District Service Facility.
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