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Red Lake Band of Chippewa

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Red Lake Band of Chippewa

The Red Lake Indian Reservation (Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga'igan) covers 1,258.62 sq mi (3,259.81 km²) in parts of nine counties in northwestern Minnesota, United States. It is made up of numerous holdings but the largest section is an area about Red Lake, in north-central Minnesota, the largest lake entirely within that state. This section lies primarily in the counties of Beltrami and Clearwater. Land in seven other counties is also part of the reservation.

The second-largest section (49°16′N 95°03′W / 49.267°N 95.050°W / 49.267; -95.050) is much farther north, in the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods County near the Canadian border. It has no permanent residents. Between these two largest sections are hundreds of mostly small, non-contiguous reservation exclaves in the counties of Beltrami, Clearwater, Lake of the Woods, Koochiching, Roseau, Pennington, Marshall, Red Lake, and Polk.

Home to the federally recognized Red Lake Band of Chippewa, it is unique as the only "closed reservation" in Minnesota.[1] The tribe claims the land by right of conquest and aboriginal title; they were not reassigned to it by the United States government.[1] The Red Lake Band of Chippewa refused to join with six other bands in organizing as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe in the mid-1930s; at the time, its people wanted to preserve their traditional system of hereditary chiefs, rather than forming an electoral government.

As of 2011, the Ojibwe language is the official language of Red Lake.[2]

In the 2000 census, Red Lake was the most populous reservation in the state, with 5,162 residents. The only place in Minnesota with a higher Native American population at that time was the state's largest city, Minneapolis, 250 miles to the south; it recorded 8,378 Indian residents that year. By 2007, the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations (both part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) had higher resident populations of enrolled Ojibwe.

The reservation's largest community is Red Lake, on the south shore of Red Lake. Given the large lake in the heart of the reservation, its total land area of 880.324 square miles (2,280.03 km2) is only about 70% of the reservation's surface area.


In the 17th century, the Ojibwa migrated into present-day Minnesota from the north around the Great Lakes. Their warriors were ordered ahead of colonizers and told to clear the way for the Anishinaabe families. Before invading the Mille Lacs region, Ojibwa soldiers had forced their way into the region just west of what is now Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior. They established a village known as Wi-yah-kwa-kit-chi-ga-ming, later called Fond du Lac (Bottom of the Lake) by French fur traders, the first Europeans to interact with the Ojibwe in this area. From there, Anishinaabe soldiers invaded the Sandy Lake and Red Lake regions. Their conquest of the Red Lake region may have occurred around 1650 or 1750. By that time, Anishinaabe people were already living in the Grand Portage, Rainy Lake, and Pembina region of northern Minnesota.[3]

After subjugating the Dakota who lived in the Red Lake region and forcing many from the area, the Noka (the Military and Police totem of the Anishinaabe) settled in. They eventually allowed other Anishinaabe totems to enter the Red Lake region to live. Most immigrants were from the Noka totem (or clan). They established many villages in the Red Lake region. Later, they and their Dakota allies invaded the plains of present-day North Dakota, western South Dakota, and Montana. The Western Dakota who refused to surrender continued to fight the Anishinaabe-Dakota alliance. With each battle and defeat, more Dakota asked for peace from the Anishinaabe. The Western Dakota who continued the conflict developed a great hatred for those Eastern Dakota who were allies of the Anishinaabe.[3]

William Whipple Warren, the first historian of the Ojibwe people, noted their longstanding associations with the French Canadians by the mid-18th century, due both to fur trading and intermarriage among their peoples. As a result, the Ojibwe fought with the French during the Seven Years War against the English; it was known in North America as the French and Indian War. Although the English won the war, the Ojibwe retained many trading and family associations with ethnic French Canadians.

19th century

In the 1850s two Roman Catholic priests established a mission with the Red Lake band. Later, Catholic nuns from the Benedictine monastery (convent) in St. Joseph founded the St. Mary's Mission at Red Lake. They organized a boarding school at the mission to serve Ojibwe girls, teaching them Christianity and English. Over time, most residents on the reservation adopted Roman Catholicism, although many also retained Ojibwe rituals and traditions, including funeral and mourning practices.[4]

Allied with the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians, in 1863 the Red Lake Band negotiated the Treaty of Old Crossing in Minnesota with the United States. They agreed to cede their lands in the Red River and Pembina area. They made additional agreements for land cessions in the following decades, under pressure of increased European-American settlers in the area.

The United States and Canada surveyed the international border between them to correct previous errors. By the corrected boundaries, the Northwest Angle was included within the United States, together with its historic residents, the Lac du Bois Band of Ojibwa. As they lacked federal recognition from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US consolidated the small Lac du Bois Band administratively with the Red Lake Band.

While the tribe ceded large tracts of land to the US, it maintained a central portion. It resisted US attempts to gain its approval for allotment to individual households under the Dawes Act of 1889. This was intended to aid assimilation by dividing communal tribal land into individual household plots for farming and private ownership. The US declared any land remaining on the reservation after allocating 160 acres to each head of household as "surplus" and available for sale to non-Indians. The arbitrary allotment disregarded the nature of the lands; not all were fit for cultivation. It also deprived the Native Americans of millions of acres of traditional territory.

As individual owners were allowed to sell their plots, many whites came seeking Ojibwe land. After sales to whites over the years, other reservations, such as White Earth, found their territory split up in checkerboard patterns. This made tribal management of the land and law enforcement jurisdiction confusing, and acted to destabilize Indian tribal life. During this period, some of the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians, refusing relocation to the Turtle Mountain or the White Earth reservations, escaped to the Red Lake Indian Reservation because it was "untouched Indian land;" it had never left tribal control.[1]

On July 8, 1889, the United States broke their treaty promises. They told the Minnesota Chippewa that the Red Lake and White Earth reservations would be retained, but the others would be put up for public sale. They said that Chippewa from the other reservations would be relocated to White Earth Reservation. Rather than dealing with the Chippewa of Minnesota on a nation to nation level, the United States told the leaders of the Chippewa reservations that the members of each reservation could vote on whether to accept allotment at that reservation, with voting to be by all qualified Chippewa men. The Chippewa leaders were outraged. They knew they could count on the average Anishinaabe adult male to obey their orders. They feared that the many Dakota who lived on the White Earth and Mille Lacs reservations might vote for allotment, as they believed the Dakota were more willing to give away land.

The whites counted the total number of votes and, given a history of deceptions, the Chippewa suspected them of altering the numbers. Red Lake leaders warned the United States about reprisals if their Reservation were violated. The members of the White Earth and Mille Lacs reservations both voted overwhelmingly to accept land allotments and allow the surplus land sold to the whites, with the tribes to receive the lump sums of money from the sales. The Leech Lake Reservation members also voted for land allotments. The October 5, 1898 Battle of Sugar Point was over land.

In 1889, the Red Lake Reservation covered 3,260,000 acres or 5,093 sq. mi. The Band was forced to cede 2,905,000 acres as "surplus" after allotment to households registered on the Dawes Rolls took place. That left the Reservation with over 300,000 acres of land and most of Lower and Upper Red Lake. Learning of Chippewa unrest because of the vote, the United States later set aside large areas of forests to add back to the Red Lake Reservation. But, in 1904 US officials returned, and forced the Red Lake Chippewa to cede more land from that set aside in 1889. The present Red Lake Reservation dates to the 1904 land act. US officials forbade the allotment of land to individual Chippewa living on the Red Lake Reservation.

Only a small portion of the White Earth Reservation remained. This was the northeast part of the full reservation; it was a fraction of the original territory. All other Minnesota Chippewa reservations were closed, with the lands sold off after the 1889 Nelson Act. As a result of the 1898 Rebellion, which occurred on the Leech Lake Reservation, the US changed its policy. It returned some land to Minnesota's remaining Chippewa reservations, including White Earth.

20th century to present

The current Red Lake reservation is entirely owned and occupied by members of the Red Lake Band, making it unique among reservations in Minnesota. (As a result of allotment and sales in the intervening years, some tribes own less than 10% of the land within their reservation boundaries). Red Lake is the most isolated reservation in the United States. In 1934, after the Indian Reorganization Act that year encouraged tribes to restore their governments, the tribe rejected joining six other Chippewa bands to organized the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe under a written constitution. Its leaders did not want to give up the tradition of hereditary chiefs for an elected government or give up any control to the Tribe. By 2007, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe reported a total enrollment of more than 40,000 members.

In the 1950s, new tribal leaders of Red Lake wrote a constitution to establish democratically elected government of chairman and council, without term limits. The tribe elected its first chairman and tribal council in 1959. Roger Jourdain was repeatedly re-elected and retained power until 1990. Under his leadership, the tribe developed infrastructure on the reservation, including running water and improving roads and housing.

It has established a library and archives, and appointed a tribal archaeologist to study and preserve the archaeological artifacts of its people. Tribal schools on the reservation were established to have the children educated in their own community through high school.

Red Lake, like the White Earth, and Leech Lake reservations, is known for its tradition of singing hymns in the Ojibwe language.[5]

In part because of the reservation's isolation, it has struggled economically and people have trouble finding work. High unemployment contributes to high rates of poverty, alcoholism, violence and suicide. As a result, since the 1990s, the school board has added classes to the high school curriculum to include drug and alcohol abuse prevention, anti-gang training, anti-bullying training, and instruction about fetal alcohol syndrome. As a result of gang killings in the 1990s, the school added security measures to the high school, including guards.[6]

Since the mid-20th century, the tribe has asserted a significant level of sovereignty. This sometimes causes tension when outsiders try to visit. (For instance, the tribe has barred journalists from entry on several occasions.) In addition, tribal members have complained that prosecution of crimes is delayed as jurisdiction has to be clarified. The reservation tribal police have jurisdiction over misdemeanors, but the US government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police, legally has jurisdiction over felonies.

Political tensions have erupted in violence, which is high on the reservation. In 1979, during a struggle over leadership, men with rifles attacked the tribal police station, and two teenagers were killed. One shot himself accidentally and the other was accidentally shot while struggling with a companion over control of a weapon. Men burned several buildings, including the home of the tribal chairman.[6] [7] The tribe and reservation was the first in the United States to issue its own vehicle license plates as a measure of its sovereign status. It is struggling to find ways to develop its economy, and is collaborating in the 21st century with the White Earth and Leech Lake bands to reach out to the business and academic communities to promote job development. (See "Economy" below.)


The communities of Red Lake Reservation tend to have housing units located on each side of one road, similar to other rural settlements.

Redby has housing units on more cross streets and appears more like a typical town. Yet many of Redby's housing units are located deep in the woods.


Per capita income is lower at Red Lake than on any other reservation in the state. It was estimated at US$8,372 in 1999, according to the Northwest Area Foundation. Approximately 40% of residents live below the poverty line. Between 1990 and 2000, the population increased by 40% as people returned to the reservation after difficulty finding employment elsewhere during recession years.

An unemployment rate hovering near 60%[8] and associated poverty are thought to be feeding what has reached an epidemic level of crime. In 2004, the tribal police filed 3,500 court cases. The majority of the population is young, with approximately 60% of the residents under the age of 18.

The unemployment and poverty have resulted in associated problems of high rates of violence, including suicide. A 2004 Minnesota School Study found that 43% of boys and 81% of girls in the freshman class of the high school had considered suicide, and 48% of the girls had tried it.[6] The school has a low graduation rate.[8]


Some in the community have expressed hope that renewal of the tribe's traditions and its traditional values may improve life on the reservation. But, others believe that the community needs to focus on education and job development, to employ people and pay them adequately. The majority of jobs on the reservation pay in the vicinity of $7 per hour as of 2005.

The tribe operates three casino operations, which are struggling to generate revenue as they do not allow the sale or consumption of alcohol. A small operation is located in the village of Red Lake, the 13,000 ft². River Road Casino is located seven miles south of Thief River Falls, and the Lake of the Woods Bingo and Casino is in Warroad. Seven Clans Casino Red Lake is located in Red Lake, Minnesota. The three casinos combined are known as Seven Clans Casinos.

Industry on the reservation has consisted primarily of logging and commercial fishing of walleye in the lakes. Walleye production dropped significantly in the 1990s, adding to the reservation's financial problems. The community receives $50 to $60 million each year in US federal subsidies, such as Social Security and welfare. Because the reservation has few retail businesses and no bank, little money is exchanged within the reservation to help generate more jobs.

The poverty level of the tribe, coupled with financial difficulties in state government, led Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2004–2005 to propose a joint casino operation to be co-owned by the White Earth, Leech Lake, and Red Lake bands, and the state government. The state was willing to designate a site in the populous Twin Cities area, where some of the most successful Indian gaming facilities in the country are located. Many state residents turned against the plan, and it was ruled to be illegal by the state Attorney General Mike Hatch. The Red Lake Band pulled out of negotiations.

Northern Minnesota tribes are working together to stimulate economic development in the region. The Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth nations created the Northern Minnesota Tribal Economic Development Commission. They are seeking to make more connections with area businesses and resources. In 2008 the three tribes organized the Northern Minnesota Reservation Economic Development Summit and Trade Show.[9] The White Earth Band is the largest of the six who belong to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, to which the Leech Lake Band also belongs.


In 1934, the tribe rejected organizing under the Indian Reorganization Act, as it preferred to keep its traditional leaders and selection system. Chiefs on the tribal council were selected from clans and served for life. That year the Red Lake Band withdrew from the federally recognized Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which created a new constitution and organized to provide administration for six constituent bands of Ojibwe located on reservations in the state. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe includes xx,xxx members enrolled in the six bands.

During the 1950s, younger tribal leaders arose who wanted to change the hereditary system. They organized and wrote a constitution to establish a government with popularly elected council members and a chairman. The 11 elected officials include the Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and 8 representatives from 4 districts, who sit on the Tribal Council. These are Red Lake, Redby, Ponemah, and, Littlerock. Seven hereditary chiefs, chosen by traditional ways, serve in an advisory capacity to the Tribal Council. They and council members make up the subordinate committees.[9]

In 1959 voters of the tribe elected Roger Jourdain (1913-2002) as the first chairman; he maintained power and was successively re-elected, serving until 1990.[1] He is credited with working to affirm the tribe's sovereignty, negotiating with the state and federal governments, getting the Indian Health Service hospital (now the Red Lake Medical Center) re-opened, and leading the construction of running water, improved housing, and better roads on the reservation.[10]

In 1990 voters had voted out the long time incumbent chairman for Gerald "Butch" Brun

In 1979, the level of discontent on the reservation increased after the Tribal Council fired the secretary-treasurer. Two days of riots occurred in which armed protesters attacked the police station and set fourteen buildings on fire, including Jourdain's home.[10] Two teenagers were killed. One accidentally shot himself and the other died accidentally while struggling with a companion over a weapon.[11]

The current Chairman is Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, Jr.


Red Lake Reservation has some widely scattered properties in northwest Minnesota. Most of the Reservation is located around Lower and Upper Red Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in the United States. The land area of the Reservation is located mainly around Lower Red Lake and west of that and Upper Red Lake. The land is covered by prime forest.

Elevation across the Red Lake Reservation is uniform. It ranges in elevation from 1,100 feet above sea level to 1,300 feet above sea level. Besides Lower and Upper Red Lakes, many smaller lakes are scattered across the reservation, especially south of Lower Red Lake.


Red Lake Reservation has extreme climate conditions. Winters are long and cold, while summers are short and warm. During the winter months of December, January, and February, the average low temperatures at Red Lake are 0, -8, and -3. Average high temperatures for the same winter months at Red Lake are 19, 13, and 20. Average high temperatures for the summer months of June, July, and August at Red Lake are 73, 78, and 76. Average low temperatures for the same summer months at Red Lake are 51, 57, and 54.

The lake and forest contribute to significant precipitation at Red Lake, 23 inches annually. The large lake has a warming effect, especially in low temperatures. The mild summer low temperatures are a result of the warming effect of Lower and Upper Red Lake. Low temperatures during the summer further south, are cooler, especially at communities that are not located next to lakes.

Notable natives and residents

  • Thomas J. Stillday, Jr., spiritual leader of the Red Lake Nation, tribal council member, served as first non-Judeo/Christian Minnesota Senate Chaplain from 1997-1998.
  • Adam Fortunate Eagle, Native American political activist.
  • Leon F. Cook, president of the National Congress of American Indians from 1971-1972.
  • Gary Sargent, professional hockey player.
  • Charlie Norris, professional wrestler.
  • Patrick DesJarlait, artist.
  • William Whipple Warren, Minnesota territorial legislator (1851-1853) and first Ojibwe historian, wrote a work combining oral history and recognized European-American criteria; his History of the Ojibway People, Based Upon Traditions and Oral Statements (1885), was published posthumously and reprinted in 2009 in an annotated edition[3]
  • Roger Jourdain (1913-2002), elected the first Chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in 1959, in the tribe's first popular election of leader; served until 1990.[10][12] He was selected in 1986 as the Indian Man of the Year by the American Indian Heritage Foundation.[10]
  • Bill Lawrence (1939-2010), owner-editor of Native American Press/Ojibwe News since 1988[10][13]
  • Jody Beaulieu, director of tribal library and archives[10]
  • Ginger Thompson, tribal archeologist who specializes in the Ojibwe
  • Jeff Weise, lived on the reservation from 1999; in 2005 as a high school student, he killed nine and committed suicide in the Red Lake massacre


External links

  • Red Lake Nation
  • "Tribal Consultation Protocol between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Red Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa", Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Archival Images of Red Lake Mission from the Saint Benedict's Monastery Archives

Coordinates: 48°09′18″N 95°06′08″W / 48.15500°N 95.10222°W / 48.15500; -95.10222

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