On January 20 the St. Louis County Board in northeastern Minnesota refused to sell abandoned, tax-forfeited lands located on the reservation to the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe. Like many reservations in the U.S., much of the land within the Fond du Lac reservation is owned by non-tribal members. The tribal government has for years been striving to turn around this situation by buying up non-tribally owned land whenever it can. The County refused to sell on the grounds that they could get more tax dollars from it if it weren’t owned by American Indians. To add insult to injury the St. Louis County Board’s discussion of the matter reflected troubling stereotypes and misinformation about American Indian taxpayers, misunderstanding of the legal, economic and historic facts of Indian tribes and our region, disrespect for Indian taxpayers’ rights and an effort to circumvent state law.
On February 12 over 100 protesters from the Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Red Lake bands, along with supporters from the Duluth/Superior area, gathered on the steps of the St. Louis County Courthouse to demand that the County Board reverse its decision.
Protesters listened to several speeches from local American Indian activists, Fond du Lac Band Chairwoman Karen Diver, and representatives of the League of Women Voters and We Are Watching group (which formed last year as a watchdog group to keep an eye of the St. Louis County Board). An American Indian drum circle also performed before and after the speakers.
Speakers at the rally criticized the St. Louis County Board for basing its decision on false information and stereotypes. They pointed out how the American Indian community does indeed pay taxes, and that its casinos are a major boost to the local economy.
Following the rally, a delegation of a few dozen of the protesters went into the Courthouse to present a letter signed by hundreds of local citizens.
The letter called for the the County Board to (1) Retract its position; (2) Agree that in the future it will not discuss or make decisions about tribal issues without meeting first with tribal governments; and, (3) Agree to participate in training to enhance Board understanding of Indian tribes and issues.
Lake Superior Socialist Action stands in solidarity with tribal efforts to regain control of land within the reservations. The fact that so much land within area reservations is owned by non-tribal members is a sad legacy to the land theft that has characterized so much of the history of relations between the U.S. and local government, and American Indians. We call on the St. Louis County to work with, rather than against, the Fond du Lac and Bois Forte bands’ efforts to expand tribal ownership of land within their reservations.