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County, tribe can't agree if reservation even exists

Associated Press

ONAMIA, Minn. -- Tensions between the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and its neighbors are rising again, less than three years after the U.S. Supreme Court settled a dispute over the band's fishing and gathering rights.

This time, the dispute is over whether the Mille Lacs reservation even exists.

The Mille Lacs County Board says it doesn't, and the band says it does. After almost a year of negotiation that went nowhere, the county board voted unanimously to pursue legal action against the band. It has set aside nearly $1 million to argue its case that the Mille Lacs reservation, established by an 1855 treaty, has been dissolved.

The band says there's no argument to be made. They say their reservation -- 61,000 acres surrounding one of Minnesota's premier lakes -- is just another thing the county is trying to take.

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"The federal government recognizes the reservation boundaries and that's really the only people we need to recognize it," said Don Wedll, a non-Indian who works for the band as an adviser.

The argument actually has roots in the earlier battle over fishing rights. The county board believes the band used that dispute to begin building a case that the 1855 reservation exists as originally established, said Frank Courteau, a county commissioner.

Recently, Courteau said, the 61,000 acres has begun to appear as reservation on some federal maps. And the federal government recognized the reservation when the band applied to put 120 acres into federal trust so it could build a wastewater plant.

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