Work continues across Minnesota on tribal land return bills

A seated woman clasps her hands while standing people film with phones
Tribal elder Carolyn Cavender Schommer (center) watches as tribal leaders and Minnesota state representatives sign documents commemorating the official transfer of land to the Upper Sioux Community.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

As discussion continues at the State Capitol on a bill to transfer all Upper Red Lake and some state forest lands to Red Lake Nation, House sponsor Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, said Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, will sponsor the bill in the Senate. 

At this year’s State of Band, Red Lake Nation Chairman Darrell Seki said the tribe has been in talks with the federal government about the issue. The tribe wants control of the Upper Lake and a mile-wide buffer around its shores 

“The Department of Interior attorneys are working with our attorneys to finalize a legal opinion, the Department of Interior can rely on to support our position that the East boundaries should reflect the boundary that the Red Lake chiefs intended in 1889,” Seki said during the address. 

Jordan says she supports any path that leads to returning the land back to Red Lake Nation.  

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.

A man at a podium
At the State of the Band Address in Redby, Red Lake Nation Chair Darrell Seki Sr. said pursuing ownership of the east boundary of Upper Red Lake is top priority.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

“I think whatever it takes to make Red Lake happy and feel like they have their promise of tribal boundaries works for me,” she said. “I’m not married to any one path to doing it.” 

Jordan said land transfers such as the one being sought by Red Lake Nation have been a long time coming.

“We’ve just seen more and more movement and organizing happening. People have been organizing around Indigenous rights for a very long time,” Jordan said. “And movements take time and having to undo so much harm that was done by the state of Minnesota takes time. But I think now that we’re really seeing that the more sovereignty is exercised, the stronger it can be.” 

On Friday hundreds of people gathered to mark the return of about 2 square miles of state-owned land in southwest Minnesota to the Upper Sioux Community.   

A bill to return a large area of the White Earth Forest to the White Earth Nation was tabled at the Capitol early in the session but may be attached to another bill. 

A woman holds up two signed deeds
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner Sarah Strommen holds up the signed deed which officially transfers the land on which the Upper Sioux Agency State Park was located back to the Upper Sioux Community.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Earlier in the week at the Capitol, Gov. Tim Walz said communication is key when moving forward, as he pointed to anger and surprise from some groups about the White Earth proposal. 

“I certainly support trying to get these lands, especially these ancestral and sacred lands, which we saw at Upper Sioux. My bit of concern on this was agencies and other stakeholders did not know this was coming in any detail,” Walz said about the White Earth bill.

“It’s one thing to propose it. It’s another to understand all of the levers, who’s going to maintain the roads, all of these things to think about and you can’t just tell people we’re going to do this and then it’s just done. There’s more to it.”