The Bug-o-nay-ge-shig sSchool Silver Eagle Drum Group is seen at a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe flag installation ceremony in 2013. Photo: Jennifer Bevis / Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success
Leech Lake Band gets first hearing on reservation restoration bill
A bill to return nearly 12,000 acres to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is getting its first hearing on Capitol Hill this week.

The tribe lost the land when the Bureau of Indian Affairs began selling off allotments on the reservation in northern Minnesota. Despite lacking approval from all the owners to do so, the BIA transferred some 11,7600 acres to the Chippewa National Forest between 1948 and 1959.

"The bureau identified as 'Secretarial transfers' those sales made without the consent of all the heirs," a footnote from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v Mottaz reads.

The 1986 decision, however, prevented Leech Lake citizens from recovering their stolen lands. The court held that a statute of limitations had long passed by the time Florence Blacketter Mottaz, whose interests were among those sold by the BIA without her consent, filed her lawsuit.

S.2599, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act, addresses the injustice by transferring the allotments back to the tribe and placing them in trust. The bill is getting a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday.

The reservation already makes up nearly half of the Chippewa National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service, so the transfer won't have a major impact on the management of the land. But S.2599 requires logging and other activities to be carried out in "accordance with applicable federal law." The bill also bars gaming on any of the transferred lands.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), the newest member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is the sponsor of S.2599. It was one of the first bills she introduced when she joined the Senate earlier this year. She was appointed to the seat vacated by Al Franken, who resigned due to sexual harassment allegations.

The hearing on the bill takes place immediately following a business meeting at 2:30pm Eastern on Wednesday. A witness hasn't been posted online.

The House version of the bill is H.R.5529. It has not yet been granted a hearing.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing to receive testimony on S. 2599 (July 11, 2018)