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Tribes: Bois Forte

Bois Forte logo and map location


The Bois Forte Reservation is located in northern Minnesota in Koochiching and St. Louis counties, approximately 40 miles south of the Canadian border. The tribal headquarters are in Nett Lake, Minnesota.


What does the name “Bois Forte” mean?

Bois Forte, or “strong wood,” was the name given by French fur traders to the Native Americans living in the densest forests of what is now northeastern Minnesota.

How did the Bois Forte people traditionally live?

The Bois Forte people lived in harmony with the rhythms of nature, moving through the woods as the seasons changed to fish, hunt, pick blueberries, and make maple sugar. This began to change when Europeans started arriving in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Since that time, the Bois Forte people have seen many changes; the great forests are gone, there are many more people and far fewer animals. Despite these alterations, the Bois Forte have endured and built a diverse, growing economy at the same time they have preserved their ancient traditions; harvesting wild rice, tapping maple trees and picking berries to name a few. Weaving everything together is a sense of community, expressed as gatherings and celebrations in powwows and sacred ceremonies.

How did the Bois Forte people come to the area where they currently live?

The Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe has lived in northeastern Minnesota for centuries, but did not originate here. The people journeyed from the east coast up the Saint Lawrence River around the Great Lakes and followed the rivers and lakes inland. During the early years of fur trading with non-Indians, the Bois Forte people moved inland from the Grand Portage area to the mouth of the Vermilion River.

Where is the Bois Forte Reservation?

The Bois Forte Reservation is located in northeastern Minnesota. The Reservation consists of three parts. The largest section is at Nett Lake in St. Louis and Koochiching counties. It is home to the majority of Bois Forte Band members and the Bandís Tribal Government Offices. The Vermilion Reservation is located near the city of Tower on Lake Vermilion in St. Louis County. It is home to Fortune Bay Resort Casino, the Bois Forte Heritage Center, the Vermilion Family Wellness Center and the Vermilion Community Center and Health/Dental Clinics. Deer Creek in Itasca County is also part of the Bois Forte Reservation although no Band members live there.

How was the Bois Forte Reservation created?

To obtain Indian peopleís rich land and natural resources, the U.S. government signed a series of treaties with Indian nations in the 1700s and 1800s. Under the terms of the Treaty of 1854, Indian people in northern Minnesota ceded land from International Falls to Duluth to Grand Portage. The Bois Forte Indians were given the right to select reservation lands in the vicinity of Lake Vermilion, which was the heart of their community, and they retained the right to hunt and fish in the ceded area.

But when reports of gold beneath the Bois Forte peopleís lands began to circulate, non-Indians wanted the land. That led to the Treaty of 1866, in which all claims to a reservation near Lake Vermilion were relinquished and a reservation of about 100,000 acres was established at Nett Lake. Even though the Vermilion reservation was reestablished by an 1881 Executive Order, the Bois Forte Indians were only given back about 1,000 acres in the Vermilion area, instead of the tens of thousands they had been promised in the Treaty of 1854.

What happened during the 19th century?

The federal government adopted a policy of assimilation, trying to squelch Indian traditions and press Indians to adopt the customs of white people. Some Indian children were taken away from their families and sent to boarding schools, where they were punished for speaking their native languages. Despite this harsh policy, the Bois Forte Band and many other Indian nations tenaciously held on to their languages, traditions and cultures.

How was the Bois Forte Band government of today created?

The federal Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 recognized that assimilation had failed and that that Indian people and Indian governments should be strengthened, not weakened. It was followed by other policies of the twentieth century, such as the Freedom of Religion Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the Indian Self-Determination Act, which marked a new respect for Indian sovereignty and self-governance. Indian nations like Bois Forte were offered the choice of managing their own government programs.

Also during this century, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was formed as a political union of six Chippewa bands. This helped the Bois Forte Band further strengthen its government. By 1997, the Bois Forte Reservation Tribal Council had assumed full responsibility for the delivery of all governmental programs and services to its people.

When was Fortune Bay Resort Casino created?

The seeds of Fortune Bayís success were planted in the mid-1980s, when the Bois Forte Band opened its first casino, which offered high-stakes bingo. Then, in 1988, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was signed into law, recognizing that tribes have the power to regulate gaming on their own land. The Bois Forte Band signed gaming compacts with the state of Minnesota, and in 1996 the Band opened Fortune Bay Resort Casino, which quickly grew into one of the regionís most successful businesses.

Today Fortune Bay employs over 550 people, annually injecting more than $30 million into the economy of northeastern Minnesota. Fortune Bay is a full service resort including a hotel, conference center, casino, restaurants, 84 slip Marina, RV campground, nationally award winning Heritage Center and Wilderness Golf Course. Fortune Bayís revenues have helped fund vital programs and services that benefit Bois Forte Band members and the surrounding communities.

The Bois Forte Band has carefully reinvested their revenues and diversified their business portfolio as part of their commitment to strengthening the regionís economy and increasing Band member employment. Under the management of the Bois Forte Development Corporation, the Band now owns and operates Fortune Bay Resort Casino, the Wilderness Golf Course, FM 94.5 WELY: End of the Road Radio, Powerain Manufacturing, Inc., the Y-Store, the Nett Lake Convenience Store and Bois Forte Wild Rice.

More Information

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