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Land taken from Leech Lake decades ago soon to be returned

May 18, 2022 GMT

CASS LAKE, Minn. (AP) — The federal government will soon return nearly 12,000 acres of land in northern Minnesota it wrongfully took from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe decades ago.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs thought it had the power to sell tribal tracts without the consent of the majority of the owners, a misinterpretation of an Interior Department order back in 1948, Minnesota Public Radio News reports.

Tribal District 3 Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III says the land transfers were acts of outright theft.

“They mailed out letters to people. If they didn’t get a response, they took them as ‘Yes.’ They took them as approval,” he said.

Fairbanks said he asked his staff to begin looking into the issue in 2012 after hearing from community members for many years. Then-President Donald Trump signed legislation in December 2020 allowing for the return of the land, which is located within the Chippewa National Forest in Cass County.

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The land is expected to be returned to the tribe in the coming months now that the band has submitted its survey detailing each of the parcels involved.

Fairbanks said the Leech Lake band’s relationship with the Cass County leaders played an important role in getting the Leech Lake Reservation Restoration Act signed into law.

County commissioners respect the sovereignty of the band and agreed that they should “not get in the middle of negotiations between two sovereign nations,” said Josh Stevenson, the Cass County administrator.