House agrees to pay Minnesota tribes $28 million

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2012 - 9:27 PM

$28 million will be paid to bands for land and timber.

WASHINGTON - Congress is moving towards repaying a multi-million dollar debt to northern Minnesota's Indian tribes more than 100 years after the U.S. government and frontiersman bilked them in land and timber deals.

At least one Indian band remains unhappy with the plan, however and is threatening a lawsuit to stop the payout.

The U.S. House approved a $28 million payment to six Chippewa bands, a plan that would grant $300 each to more than 40,000 Chippewa members.

The remaining $16 million would be split among the governments of the six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe -- Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth.

The federal government agreed to pay the tribes $20 million in 1999, but in-fighting over how to divvy up the settlement has kept it tied up, accumulating interest.

"There is a great need on these reservations ...," said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the bill's primary sponsor. "It is time for everyone to come together and find an agreement that ... everyone can benefit from."

Leech Lake Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose, however, said Monday that his band deserves more because almost 70 percent of the total damages stemmed from under-evaluation and mismanagement of Leech Lake land. He has said the Leech Lake tribal government will refuse its share of the settlement and file suit.

"We want to be treated fairly, to have our treaty rights respected and to be fully compensated for the land and timber taken ...," LaRose said in a statement released Monday. " ... otherwise, the United States should return our land."

The Star Tribune could not immediately reach Norman Deschampe, chairman of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and Grand Portage Band, for comment.

The settlement deal stems from the federal government's management of the 1889 Nelson Allotment Act, under which some reservation land was allotted to individual Indians but other plots were ceded to the United States and sold to non-Indians.

Proceeds from the sales were supposed to go into a trust fund for the Chippewa, but the Indians were swindled in most cases.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, which must also approve the plan before it could go to President Obama's desk for final approval.

Since the funds were approved in the late 1990s, the settlement would have no impact on the current federal budget.

Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @StribMitchell

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