U of M and the Fond du Lac Band outline a return of homelands to the tribe

People stand in a room and talk
Retired Cloquet Forestry Center faculty member Al Alm addresses his concerns regarding land back to the Fond du Lac Band during a meeting held at the CFC auditorium on Tuesday.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

Discussion around return of land from the University of Minnesota to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa made for an emotionally charged meeting inside the auditorium of the Cloquet Forestry Center Tuesday afternoon. 

Citizens of the Fond du Lac Band, foresters, and community members from around the Cloquet and Carleton County area had an opportunity to address university officials about the proposed return of approximately 3,400 acres to the Fond du Lac Band — land held by the University of Minnesota for the past century. The land also makes up the entirety of where the Cloquet Forestry Center sits. 

Karen Diver is the university’s senior adviser to the president for Native American affairs. At the meeting, Diver said the university and the band have drafted a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the return of the land to the band and how the forestry center’s ongoing research might also meet the needs of the band. 

Fond du Lac tribal member Wayne DuPuis said the return is about reclaiming a part of the band’s homelands. DuPuis says the Fond Du Lac Band ceded many millions of acres to the United States, and in return reserved exclusive right to approximately 100,000 acres, which make up the band’s reservation. 

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

“I think there are ways we can partner, but this is our homeland.” 

Located just west of Cloquet, the forestry center exists within the boundaries of the Fond du Lac reservation. The Band reserved exclusive rights to reserved land in an 1854 treaty. In the 1880s, federal legislation divided that land into parcels and allotted it to individual tribal members.

Another pair of federal laws passed in the 1880s allowed for the U.S. government to sell unallotted lands. Land initially purchased by a logging company was later transferred to the University of Minnesota where the U has operated the research center for the past century.

A sign for a reservation
The boundary of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa along Hwy 210 near Cloquet.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

Diver said the university and the band have continued to meet over the past year and described discussions as “...fulsome. They have been supportive. They have been respectful.”  

Discussions around the land return take place as the university reckons with its mistreatment of Indigenous peoples going back to institution’s founding in 1851.  

The University of Minnesota continues to profit off expropriated Indigenous lands granted to the university dating back to Minnesota’s statehood, according to recent report by Grist.  

In April of 2023, graduate student researchers at the University of Minnesota, alongside tribally appointed fellows, published a lengthy report outlining harm done to Indigenous communities by the university, calling university to make reparations in perpetuity.  

This past January, Karen Diver and university regent Tadd Johnson responded to recommendations made in the TRUTH Report, and offered a list of initial steps the university has taken to repair its relationship with tribal communities, including repatriation of the Cloquet Forestry Center lands to Fond du Lac. 

Pete Aube, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in forestry from the U at the forestry center, expressed concern for what he felt was a lack of support by the university for forestry as a profession. 

“This is not about the land, this is an Institution. There are thousands of us learned how to practice forestry and used its research to improve decisions and investments in Minnesota land for 120 years.” 

Aube said there is an ongoing need for forest research at the center to combat climate change. “In a carbon management era, forestry is the only negative sector in carbon emissions.” 

Discussions around the return of the land also take place at a moment of greater collaboration between the forestry research staff at the CFC and the band. 

For the past two years, foresters at the University of Minnesota and members of the Fond du Lac Band, alongside members of Ojibwe communities across the state, have worked together on projects involving the cultural uses of low-intensity fire they agree are necessary in stewarding forested lands. 

Several in attendance at the meeting felt there had not been enough opportunity to provide input or feedback on the proposed return of the land. 

Gary Petersen who lives west of Mahtowa attended the meeting as a private citizen.  

“I really appreciate having this public listening session, but I think it should have taken place earlier,” said Petersen. 

Petersen, like others, hopes the university and the Fond du Lac Band might work together in a way that would benefit both the band and residents of Minnesota.  

A man talks to a room
Ronald Hagland, Oneida tribal citizen, addressed university officials about the return of land to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Tuesday.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

Ronald Hagland, an Oneida tribal member, said he’s lived in the Cloquet community since 1978 and is married to a Fond du Lac Band member.  

“I look at this moment in time for the communities of Fond du Lac and Cloquet as a tremendous, tremendous opportunity to really build something together through input and rational decision making.”  

Nenoo-giizhik, a Fond du Lac Band citizen, turned to address the entire auditorium and said he is confident in the band’s ability to care for its forested lands.  

“The first thing I want to say to everyone here is when we do get the land back, we’ll take good care of it,” said Nenoo-giizhik. “Our rice lakes are proof of that. We have some of the best rice lakes in the area, we have proven that we can take care of our land. Now we continue to do so we continue to take care of the woods.”  

Diver says the university will approach the state legislature during the spring session to work through several issues related to the ownership of the land and its transfer.