Tribal Relations

Ben Benoit in canoe holding a flower.

The ancestors of the Dakota and Ojibwe occupied this region for thousands of years before the Chippewa National Forest was created. Today, nearly half of the National Forest falls within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation.

Several locations on the Forest illustrate the long term and current use of the land. The Bimijiwan Recreation Area, located off the Scenic Highway (Beltrami County Highway 39) in the Blackduck District, is currently a campground and boat launch where people gather to camp and fish. Archaeological excavations at this site have found stone tools and fish bone that show people have camped and fished here for as many as 10,000 years.

The South Pike Bay Campground, on the Walker District, and the Williams Narrows Campground, on the Deer River District, are also places where people have camped for thousands of years. If you get a chance visit one of these sites, you’ll be part of this long historical journey too!

The Headwaters region of the Mississippi River includes parts of the Chippewa National Forest and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

It is interesting to learn that Lake Winnibigoshish retains much of its Ojibwe name (Wiinibiigoonzhish-zaaga’igan/Little Stagnant Murky Lake), as does the Mississippi River (Misi-ziibi/Great River), and that there are at least six names for the Mississippi in Ojibwe. Leech Lake also retains its name except that it is a translation of the Ojibwe name (Ozagaskwaajimekaag-zaaga’igan/Abundant with Leeches Lake).

Did you know:

The Leech Lake Indian Reservation and the Chippewa National Forest share almost 2,000 miles of boundary and 44% of the Chippewa National Forest lies within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. This unique geographic relationship directly links the National Forest with the social, economic, and cultural well-being of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act (Act) signed into law in December of 2020, transfers 11,760 acres of federal land, currently managed by the Chippewa National Forest, to the Department of the Interior to be held in trust for the benefit of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (LLBO). These land transfers are mandated by Congress.

The transferred lands remain as federally held land; jurisdiction and management authorities transfer from the Forest Service to the United States of America in trust for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The Act transfers National Forest system lands; therefore, the Act does not include private lands. The language of the Act also makes provisions for continuing to honor any existing private property rights such as easements, permits, or other encumbrances.

Working collectively to implement the Act, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Chippewa National Forest announced on June 21, 2021 that the Plan of Survey has been created. With a Plan of Survey in place, the Forest and the Band will continue to work closely together in moving through implementation of the land transfers as directed by the Act. Next steps include continuing to identify potential transfer lands, researching parcel histories, preparing legal descriptions, identifying title encumbrances, and finalizing maps.

Current Status

At this time maps are not available, as they are created and finalized, they will be available for public viewing.Identification of lands and verification of encumbrances and legal descriptions is a cooperative, ongoing effort by the Forest and the LLBO. These lands will enable the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to invest in future generations with economic and residential development. Lands subject to transfer hold historical and cultural significance to the Band.

The Band and Forest recognize that the legislation honors existing property rights such as easements, permits, rights of way, or other encumbrances. The Forest Service is committed to creating an outcome that complies with the Act, the Federal Land Policy Management Act, and all applicable laws and regulations.

Quotes by leadership regarding the Act:

Faron Jackson Sr., Chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

“It is with great joy and hope for the future in our hearts that we celebrate the latest step forward in restoring a portion of the illegally transferred lands back to the Leech Lake Ojibwe. 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.”

Michael Stansberry, Chippewa National Forest Supervisor

“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 11,760 acres to this sovereign nation. We look forward to continuing our efforts together as we move through implementation of the Act.”