Welcome to the Red Lake Nation. Photo: J. Stephen Conn

Red Lake Nation land swap is 'never going to happen' under Trump

The Red Lake Nation pulled out of a land swap with an energy company amid concerns that the deal would be held up in Washington, D.C., The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

In December 2015, the tribal council voted to accept $18.5 million from Canadian energy firm Enbridge to address the unauthorized presence of oil pipelines on its land in Minnesota. In order to resolve future conflicts, the tribe agreed to turn over the 0.5-acre parcel at issue to Enbridge and the company agreed to transfer 164 acres to the tribe.

But Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. told The Star Tribune that the Department of the Interior is setting up roadblocks to the swap. He doesn't think the tribe will get the Enbridge parcel placed in trust as long as President Donald Trump is in office.

“I believe it’s never going to happen under the Trump administration,” Seki told the paper. In meetings with Interior officials, he said he was told to go to Congress to get the swap approved.

Beyond concerns at the federal level, there is opposition at home. Some on the reservation believe the tribe isn't allowed to go through with the swap because it amounts to a sale of the 0.5-acre property, the paper reported. The tribal constitution states that land on the reservation "shall neither be sold nor divided by allotment."

Tribal leaders apparently agree. In January, the council voted to rescind the deal with Enbridge, which was easy to do since the Bureau of Indian Affairs never approved it and the tribe never got the $18.5 million.

The tribe could always negotiate a right-of-way with Enbridge. Or it could initiate trespass proceedings -- Seki told the paper that he thinks the pipelines should be removed, a sentiment shared by others on the reservation.

Historically, tribes and individual Indians have been at a disadvantage in rights-of-way and trespass disputes. In Oklahoma, an energy company was allowed to operate a natural gas pipeline on Indian land for nearly two decades without paying the owners. A federal judge has ordered the pipeline to be removed but nothing has happened.

In New Mexico, a utility company has operated a transmission line on the Navajo Nation for decades despite lacking agreement with the owners. The tribe and individual Indians won a major court victory last year but the dispute remains in limbo because the utility is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

Read More on the Story:
Enbridge negotiations with Red Lake Band show shift on tribal land issues (The Minneapolis Star Tribune March 3, 2018)
Red Lake Tribal Council votes against Enbridge land deal (The Duluth News Tribune January 12, 2018)
Red Lake tribe pulls out of deal selling land to pipeline company (Minneapolis Public Radio January 12, 2018)

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Darrell Seki: Red Lake Nation makes right decision with land swap (January 5, 2016)
Red Lake Nation accepts $18.5M for taking of land by energy firm (January 4, 2016)