Bois Forte Band regains historic tribal land

The Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in partnership with The Conservation Fund and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, announced the completed purchase of land that restores to the Band more than 28,000 acres of land within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation.
The Band’s acquisition of 28,089 acres previously held by timberland owner and lumber manufacturer PotlatchDeltic Corporation constitutes the largest restoration of land since the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation were established in Minnesota under the Treaty of 1866. Plans are underway for the Band to directly manage the restored lands under a forest management plan that emphasizes conservation and environmental protection balanced with economic and cultural benefits to the Band and its members.
“This is a historic day for the Bois Forte Band,” said Cathy Chavers, Chairwoman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. “This acquisition represents the largest restoration of land to our Reservation since our ancestors secured what was to be our permanent and undisturbed homeland. This acquisition rights a historic wrong and returns lush forests to the Band to foster and protect in homage to our ancestors and as an inheritance to our future generations. On behalf of the Band, I offer the deepest thanks to all those who made this day possible, especially those at The Conservation Fund and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, whose efforts have been instrumental in making this historic restoration happen.”
The Band entered into a treaty with the United States in 1854 that set aside a region around Lake Vermilion as a reservation, which was later defined through an 1881 Executive Order. In its 1866 Treaty with the United States, the Band reserved two additional sectors at Nett Lake and Deer Creek to serve as its permanent homeland. However, just 20 years later, the federal government changed course, dividing the Reservation land and selling it to timber companies and homesteaders under the General Allotment and Nelson Acts. PotlatchDeltic eventually came to own significant acreages on the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Reservation.
While some land was restored to the Band in 1938 under the Indian Reorganization Act, control of significant swaths of land within the 111,787-acre Nett Lake and 22,927-acre Deer Creek sectors remained out of Band ownership. But an opportunity for the Band to regain 28,089 acres – 21% of the total land base within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors – emerged after PotlatchDeltic sold most of its land in Minnesota to The Conservation Fund in 2020. The national environmental nonprofit acquired over 72,000 acres of forestland, including 28,089 acres within the Bois Forte Reservation (27,565 acres in Nett Lake and 524 acres in Deer Creek). Conversations between the Band and the Fund about the lands within the Reservation began shortly thereafter.
“This outcome honors the heritage of this land by reuniting it with the Bois Forte Band and ensuring its long-term stewardship,” said Larry Selzer, The Conservation Fund’s president and CEO. “As a mission-driven organization, we are focused on creating solutions for naturally and culturally important lands that make sense for the environment and communities. We respect the Band as the best possible caretakers for this forestland and celebrate together this historic milestone.”
The Band’s purchase was financed by the Indian Land Capital Company, a Certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) providing alternative loan options to Native Nations for tribal land acquisition projects. ILCC is owned by the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a national, community-based organization serving tribal nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands.
“As we work to ensure more Indian lands return to Indian hands, today’s announcement demonstrates a meaningful step on the long journey ahead,” said Cris Stainbrook, President of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. “We are proud to have helped the Bois Forte Band reach this milestone moment and hope that it inspires many more like it throughout Indian Country. And, it reminds all of us that restoring land to Indian ownership, management and control is more than a hashtag, it is a reality.”
A combination of conservation incentive payments under the Minnesota Sustainable Forest Initiative Act, coupled with other sustainable revenue streams that can be derived from the forest, will allow the Band to fully fund this acquisition and promptly pay off the purchase price. Later, the revenue generated from the land will support the Band’s land acquisition and conservation efforts.
The Bois Forte Band, a federally recognized Indian tribe organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, has over 3,600 enrolled members. The Band’s governing body is the Bois Forte Reservation Tribal Council. Among its other duties, the Council works to identify opportunities to restore the Band’s historic land base lost to federal allotment policies in order to ensure proper stewardship of those lands, expand economic opportunities. and exercise greater control over the Band’s territory.
The Bois Forte Reservation includes three sectors: Nett Lake, Deer Creek, and Vermilion, which are located in parts of Minnesota’s Koochiching, Saint Louis and Itasca counties. The Nett Lake sector is known for its prolific production of high-quality and hand-harvested wild rice, which is of vital traditional, cultural, and economic importance to the Band and its members.
The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa is a federally recognized tribe situated in northern Minnesota.
The Band’s governing body is comprised of a five-member Council. The Band delivers government services to over 3,600 enrolled members who are located on-reservation, across the United States, and abroad. The Band provides government services through a variety of departments, including Bois Forte Health Clinic, Human Services, Police Department, DNR, Tribal Court System, Realty, Housing, Enrollment, Public Works, IT services, Accounting,
Education and Human Resources. As the owner and operator of the Boys and Girls Club, Fortune Bay Resort Casino, the Y-Store, and the Nett Lake C-Store, the Band is one of the largest employers within its region. You can learn more about the Band by visiting its website at: http://www.boisforte.com/.