Arthur LaRose: Minnesota Chippewa trust fund bill not fair at all

Arthur “Archie” LaRose is the chairman of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

The most honest part of Norm Deschampe’s open letter on H.R. 1272, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Trust Fund bill, is when he admitted that “It took another 10 years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to confirm that the MCT was best suited to decide how to distribute the funds.”

The reason it took the BIA a decade is because immediately following the 1999 settlement, President Deschampe of the Grand Portage Band -- along with the other three smallest bands, which collectively comprise about 20 percent of the damages and population of the MCT -- attempted to get an even six-way split of the $20 million. The BIA immediately opposed this split, suggesting instead that a fair division of the settlement would be 35 percent based on damages sustained and 65 percent based on per capita payments to members.

Yes, contrary to President Deschampe’s assertion that “The MCT’s claims of inadequate compensation were never calculated on a reservation-by-reservation basis” the MCT paid experts millions of dollars to provide detailed analysis of timber and land losses, reservation by reservation. That is why and how the court approved the $20 million settlement figure.

Another wrinkle in President Deschampe’s fair distribution is that in 1985 the White Earth Reservation received $6.6 million and 10,000 acres in Nelson Act compensation, which was never shared, equally or otherwise. Why not? Was it because the compensation was for land and timber losses at White Earth only?

The fact is White Earth was compensated for 90 percent of their Nelson Act losses in 1985, and would also now receive an additional windfall (one-third of present settlement estimated at $28.5 million) for their last 10 percent. This is how and why the other five MCT Bands agree that it’s fair to take 85 percent of the settlement for themselves, now. They all get something for nothing at the unjust and unfair expense of the Leech Lake Band.

MCT President Deschampe, coincidentally is also Chairman of Grand Portage Reservation, which suffered less than 1 percent of damages and has about 4 percent of the MCT membership. But Deschampe says it’s fair that Grand Portage gets a windfall 4 to 5 times greater than its damages or population, and fair that Leech Lake gets ripped off.

President Deschampe never explains how this is really fair. The reason is because it’s not fair and more importantly President Deschampe’s position violates the U.S. Constitution, the Revised Constitution of the MCT, the Indian Civil Rights Act and most importantly Leech Lake’s 1854 and 1855 Chippewa Treaty rights.

Congress and the BIA also have a duty to respect the U.S. Constitution, the Indian Civil Rights Act and most importantly our 1854 and 1855 Chippewa Treaty rights. President Deschampe does not address these specific attacks on Leech Lake’s tribal sovereignty.

The entire House and this legislation’s authors like Representative Cravaack are facing re-election this fall. Apparently, authors like Rep. Cravaack are willing to risk an unjust taking of Leech Lake’s compensation for loss of treaty reserved, property rights to enable spreading it amongst the other 80 percent of the MCT members who are also Minnesota voters.

It is true that the Director of the BIA testified before the Senate and House Committees saying that the Interior Department supports S.1739 and H.R.1272 because they respect the decision of the governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

However, as noted in an April 11th letter from then-BIA Assistant Secretary Echo Hawk to Leech Lake Chairman LaRose, the BIA testified that it “would prefer that any distribution plan have the unanimous support of all the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's constituent bands. Should the Committees, sponsors of S. 1739 and H.R. 1272, wish to consider an amendment to the bills, in an effort to gain unanimous support of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the Department is willing to participate.”

Over 30 years ago, Congress enacted the Tribal Judgment Funds Act to establish an administrative process to allocate federal court-approved judgment funds when different tribes disagree. This process was brought to the attention by members of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, who pointed out that New Mexico tribes recently faced a similar problem using the Judgment Funds Act. The Act takes politics out of federal court settlements, and rightly forces parties to prove damages and legal rights to a court settlement.

The reality for Leech Lake is that most of our reservation was taken 100 years ago by the United States to create what is now the Chippewa National Forest (CNF). The losses are a direct result of Congress’ amending the 1889 Nelson Act in 1908, for the creation of Chippewa National Forest, which itself took over 200,000 from Leech Lake Reservation. It’s over 100 years later and Leech Lake has never actually been compensated for the stolen lands and timber, from which the CNF can afford to give over a million dollars annually to counties for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT).

Under the present Nelson Settlement, Leech Lake is being compensated at the 1908 land price of $1.25 per acre. If Congress wants to now take Leech Lake’s 1908 fair compensation and give it to other Chippewa, Congress should at least be fair enough to return 200,000 acres to Leech Lake and deduct the fair amount of $1.25 per acre or $250,000 from what remains or our MCT determined “fair share.”

Related Stories:
Arthur LaRose: Trust fund bill a threat to tribal sovereignty (04/24)
Norman Deschampe: Trust fund bill fair to Chippewa bands (04/24)
House Resources Committee markup for five bills of interest (04/23)
Leech Lake Band threatens litigation over share of trust fund (03/05)
MPR: House panel debates Minnesota Chippewa trust fund bill (3/2)
Witness List: House hearing on Chippewa trust fund measure (3/1)
Leech Lake chairman to testify against trust fund legislation (2/29)
Bill authorizes distribution of $28M Chippewa judgment fund (2/16)

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