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Tribes: Red Lake Nation: Unique in Indian Country

Red Lake logo and map location

Location
The Red Lake Reservation is located in the northern Minnesota almost totally within Beltrami County with a small portion in Clearwater County. The Red Lake “line” is about 25 miles north of Bemidji. The land, slightly rolling and heavily wooded, has many lakes, swamps, peat bogs, and prairies. Land to the west is suitable for farming.

History
History: The Red Band resides on aboriginal land and has lived in the area since the Dakota moved from the region in the mid-1700’s. The Red Lake Band, through various treaties and land agreements from 1863 to 1902 gave up millions of acres of land* but never ceded the diminished reservation and it was never allotted. This fact makes Red Lake unique in Indian Country. All land is held in common by the members of the Band.

Tribal leadership during the late 1800's skillfully resisted allotment legislation and held the land intact for the Tribe as a whole. Pike Creek at Red Lake is the site of the historic land agreement of 1889 where seven determined and foresighted chiefs resisted complying with the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887.

Because of the foresight of Red Lake ancestors who refused to participate in the Dawes Act, Anishinabe heritage and tradition are preserved. English is a second language to many Red Lake members middle-aged and older including some on the Tribal Council. Ojibwe is spoken and/or understood by many others.

The diminished reservation is 636,954 acres. Other holdings including the Northwest Angle at 156,900 acres total 825,654 acres, larger than the state of Rhode Island. Red Lake is the largest fresh water lake in the country wholly contained within one state. The lake, Mis-qua-ga-me-we-saga-eh-ganing to the Red Lake Ojibwe, is held sacred.

*In 1863 in what is known as the “Old Crossing Treaty”, Red Lake ceded 11,000,000 acres to the U.S. In 1889, Red Lake cedes another 2,900,000 acres referred to as the “Act for the Relief and Civilization of the Chippewa”. In 1902 Red Lake finally ceded 256,152 acres to the U.S. known as the “Western Townships”.

Government
The tribal government has full sovereignty over the reservation, subject only to the federal government. Red Lake, because of its unique status is often referred to as a "closed" reservation. Because the land is held in common, few non-members live at Red Lake. The Tribe has the right to limit who can visit or live on the reservation. The Red Lake Nation is exempt from Public Law 280; consequently the state courts or government has no jurisdiction at Red Lake. Laws are made by the Tribal Council and enforced by the Tribal Council and Federal Courts.

In 1918 the Red Lake General Council Constitution was established. In 1958 a revised Constitution and By-laws was adopted by the members of Red Lake Nation, followed by the first secret ballot election of Tribal Government in 1959.

An eleven member Tribal Council, three officers elected at large and eight council members, two from each of the four communities, governs the Red Lake Band. Seven Hereditary Chiefs, descendents from those who negotiated the 1889 Land Agreement, serve for life in an advisory capacity to the Tribal Council. In 1997, the Tribe began administering its own programs under a Self-Governance Contract with the BIA. Red Lake is not a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT).

Communities
There are four reservation communities.

  • Little Rock
    Located about five miles west of Red Lake. It has a community center and an Indian-owned store.

  • Ponemah
    Located near the end of the peninsula where Upper and Lower Red Lakes are joined. Ponemah, (also known as Obashing) because of its relative isolation, practices many of the old traditions and culture. It has a community center, an elementary school, Head Start, a health clinic, programming for elders, and powwow grounds.

  • Redby
    Located about five miles east of Red Lake. Several tribal businesses are located in Redby along with some tribal programs including an adolescent group home and a chemical dependency treatment facility.

  • Red Lake
    Home of the Tribal Government and several tribal programs and businesses. There is a modern IHS hospital, the Jourdain/Perpich Extended Care Facility for the elderly, and several others. Community buildings include the Humanities Center that houses the Head Start program, a swimming pool and other recreational and group facilities. There is a new Boys and Girls club and powwow grounds. An elementary, middle and high school operated by the state of Minnesota is located at Red Lake.

Economy
Employment on the reservation is very limited, resulting in high unemployment rates. The Tribal Council is the main employer through government operations and tribally owned businesses such as Red Lake Builders which constructs both buildings and roads, retail centers, Red Lake Nation Foods, and others. There are also several small businesses many operated out of homes, including many traditional craftspeople. A farm was purchased on the southwest corner of the reservation in 1994 and the Tribe has continued with a successful paddy rice operation.

The Tribe has three casino operations all built on trust land funded by, and has always been managed by, the Tribe. Under the organization of Red Lake Gaming Enterprises, the three are Seven Clans Casino Thief River, the largest with a hotel and outstanding indoor water park. Seven Clans Casino Warroad, located on beautiful Lake of the Woods, and Seven Clans Casino Red Lake located in Red Lake on the Reservation.

Leadership
Red Lake has a history of leadership among Indian Tribes and has been at the vanguard of many initiatives in Indian Country. These include the first tribe in the Country to have tribal auto license plates; Red Lake elected the first Indian County Commissioner in the State, and a Red Lake Spiritual Leader became the first non-Judeo-Christian chaplain of the State Senate; It is the first reservation in Minnesota to build an archives-library program to preserve tribal records and historical material; and more.

More Information

Red Lake website: http://www.redlakenation.org