Indian Affairs - State of Minnesota



Bois Forte
Fond du Lac
Grand Portage
Leech Lake
Lower Sioux
Mille Lacs
Prairie Island
Red Lake
Shakopee
Upper Sioux
White Earth >

Tribes: White Earth

White Earth logo and map location

The White Earth Reservation contains 829,440 acres and is located in the northwestern Minnesota. It encompasses all of Mahnomen County and portions of Becker, and Clearwater Counties. The reservation is located 68 miles east of Fargo and 225 miles northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Tribal headquarters is located in White Earth, Minnesota.

The White Earth Reservation is named for the layer of white clay underneath the surface on the western half of the reservation. The land is typical of west-central Minnesota of prairie in the west, rolling hills and many lakes and rivers in the middle, and conifer forest in the east. Indian communities include White Earth, Pine Point/Ponsford, Naytahwaush, Elbow Lake, and Rice Lake. Other villages were built along the railroad track running south to north in the western part of the reservation, Callaway, Ogema, Waubun, and Mahnomen (all incorporated cities).

With the 1867 Treaty, great pressure was put on all bands in Minnesota to get them to relocate onto one reservation. Never the historic homeland of any Ojibwe group, it became a reservation in 1867 in a treaty with the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe. It was to become the home of all of the Ojibwe and Lakota in the state, however, not all bands wanted to move onto one reservation and give up their reservation. Mississippi Band members from Gull Lake were the first group to come and settle around White Earth Village in 1868. The 1920 census reflected those who had settled in White Earth: 4856 were from the Mississippi Band including 1,308 from Mille Lacs, the Pillager Bands had 1,218, Pembina Band 472, and 113 had come from Fond du Lac of the Superior Band.

The different bands tended to settle in different areas of the reservation. Mille Lacs Lake members moved to the northeastern part of the reservation, around Naytahwaush and Beaulieau. Pillager Band members settled around Pine Point in the southeast. After 1873, Pembina Band members from the Red River Valley moved into a township on the western side of the reservation. A community concentrated in the Village of White Earth where the government agency was located.

The Dawes Act of 1887, Nelson Act of 1889 along with the Clapp Act of 1904 and Snyder Act of 1906, enabled the rapid division of the reservation and allotments were given to individuals of 80 acres to head of household and 40 acres each to their children. There were many schemes to defraud individuals and minors from their land. Around the turn of the century much of the original Reservation land was illegally taken from allottee or their heirs through tax forfeit, minor sales, full blood or administrative sales. The timber was sold and cut and much of the land quickly passed into non-Indian ownership. In the decades since, there were several commissions and court actions to find out what happened.

The implications for hunting and fishing rights have had several court challenges. The Collier agreement of 1936 was an agreement between the Biological Service (now US Fish and Wildlife Service) and Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. The agreement still allows White Earth members to hunt, fish and gather within the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. In 1977, Clark v. State of Minnesota was the issue before the court on whether the state has jurisdiction to enforce its game and fish laws against enrolled members of the White Earth Band on non-Indian owned land within the reservation. In affirming lower court dismissals of the prosecutions, the Minnesota court held the White Earth Reservation was not disestablished by the Nelson Act of 1889. In 1981, White Earth Band of Chippewa v. Alexander reaffirmed tribal treaty rights for tribal members on the reservation to hunt, fish, and to gather wild rice free of state regulations on all land within the White Earth Reservation. By agreement of the parties, the stipulated facts and exhibits from the Clark case are made part of the record.

In 1986 the White Earth Land Settlement Act (WELSA) required transferring 10,000 acres of state/county held land to the Tribe in exchange the Tribe allowed for cleared titles of 100,000 acres of privately owned land, although the titles have been cleared, the Tribe is still waiting for the Federal Government to complete the transfer of the 10,000 acres of land into trust status. The Tribe also received $6.5m for economic development, which was used to start their Shooting Star Casino.

White Earth has relatively very little allotted land still remaining in trust, reflecting the destructive land-grabbing history of the reservation. Currently, the tribe does own around 10% (compared to 6% in 1978) of the land within the reservation, Federal government owns 15%, State owns 7%, Counties own 17%, and Privates ownership is 51%. Individual Enrolled members do, hold significant amounts of privately owned fee lands within the reservation and pay property tax to the counties. The tribe also own land which they must pay property taxes until they can get the land into trust status with the federal government. The trust application to put the land into trust status take years to complete with the federal government.

The White Earth Tribal Council is the governing body and the Tribe is a member of the MCT. White Earth Village is the location of the new tribal headquarters which opened in 2008, the IHS clinic, (which underwent a five-fold expansion in 1995), the Circle of Life K-12 tribal school, and a senior's housing project and a new community center (2008). Because of the widely scattered settlement pattern on the reservation, government services, social programs, Head Start and daycare are provided at various centers, Nay-tah-waush, Pine Point, and Rice Lake. There is an additional Head Start at Waubun and health stations at Nay-tah-waush and Pine Point. Hospitals are in communities off the reservation and in Mahnomen. The Tribe assists various services such as the hospital, fire departments, rescue squads and ambulance with some funding, with major funding going to law enforcement on the Reservation.

Seven Minnesota public school districts serve Indian children: Bagley, Detroit Lakes, Fosston, Mahnomen, Park Rapids, Waubun, and Nay-tah-waush. The White Earth Community Service Center serves as a recreational building, swimming pool and gymnasium. The center is operated by the Tribe and on tribal. The Pine Point School, K-8, is a part of the State system; it started as an Indian experimental school in 1969. Under special legislation, the Tribe administers it. In 2005 a new charter school was started in the community of Nay-tah-waush.

Criminal jurisdiction of Indians is provided by the state, the Tribe has civil jurisdiction. The Tribe has a conservation department, a police department and a civil court and is working on developing its own criminal code.

The White Earth Reservation is in an area of especially severe continuous unemployment. The Tribe's Shooting Star Casino and Hotel in Mahnomen has been a successful operation and is the largest employer in Mahnomen County. Even though the land was purchased with monies from the WELSA Act and should have been tax exempt, the casino has paid property taxes up until this past year. There is a 390-room hotel with swimming pool, arcade, entertainment, a full range of food service options and an RV park. A great deal of investment in infrastructure has been required, resulting in expanded water and waste treatment facilities, telephone systems, and highway development.

As a community development project, the Manitok Mall was built adjacent to the casino complex. It has shops and other amenities for those coming to the casino. The Tribe also owns and operates the Ojibwe Building Supplies, Ojibwe Office Supplies, a Solid Waste Transfer Station and their own third-party health insurance claims administration office. They are in the process of starting a new business called Native Automation Solutions, Inc. which has recently gained 8(a) status from SBA. In 2006 two 24-unit apartment complexes were opened in Mahnomen and an additional 25 new homes were completed in 2007.

More Information

White Earth website: http://www.whiteearth.com