Native News

U.S. Forest Service moves forward with Leech Lake land transfer agreement

A man points to a point on a map.
LeRoy Fairbanks points out the patchwork of land ownership on a map of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation. Yellow marks Secretarial Transfers.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News | 2022

Quick Read

The Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe have signed a memo that lays out which parcels of land will be returned to Leech Lake, according to a press release from the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday.

The U.S. Forest Service has taken a big step in restoring land to a tribal nation in northern Minnesota.  

“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe as we implement the Reservation Restoration Act to transfer back approximately 11,778 acres to this sovereign nation,” Chippewa Forest Supervisor Michael Stansberry said. 

“We understand the importance the land holds to the Band and will continue to work with the Band as we move through this process,” Stansberry said.  

A memo returning 345 parcels of land was signed by U.S. Forest Service regional forester Antoine Dixon. 

Former President Donald Trump signed the Leech Lake Restoration Act in December of 2020. The act compensates Leech Lake for approximately two-thirds of land erroneously transferred in the 1940s and 50s. The Bureau of Indian Affairs incorrectly interpreted an order from the Secretary of the Interior to mean it had the authority to sell the land without gaining the consent of the majority of tribal owners.  

The U.S. Forest Service news release stated that the land holds both historical and cultural significance for the tribe. 

Leech Lake chairperson Faron Jackson Sr. said Leech Lake is looking forward to completing the restoration process.  

“On behalf of the Band, I want to express my gratitude to the Forest Service and tribal staff collaborating behind the scenes to move this land transfer towards completion. This is one of the most monumental and positive developments to take place on Leech Lake since the first treaties were signed and the reservation was established in 1855,” said Jackson. 

Leech Lake Band worked jointly with the leadership of the Chippewa National Forest to identify the restored parcels, according to the U.S. Forest Service news release. 

“The intent was to limit fragmentation of ownership boundaries while honoring private property rights. The legislation language made provisions for honoring any existing private property rights such as easements, permits, or other encumbrances,” according to the U.S. Forest Service news release.  

Webpages and documents provided by the U.S. Forest Service tribal relations website shows the restored parcels across all sections of the Leech Lake reservation. 

The tribe shares more than 2,000 miles of boundary with the Chippewa National Forest, and nearly 40 percent of the forest lies within Leech Lake tribal lands. 

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will hold a commemorative ceremony honoring the restoration on July 17.