Sen. Tina Smith & Rep. Betty McCollum’s Bill to Restore 11k Acres of Land to Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to be Signed Into Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/03/20]—After passing the U.S. House of Representatives today, legislation authored by U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04) to restore over eleven-thousand acres of wrongly seized land to the Leech Lake Reservation is headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“My colleague Representative McCollum and I worked to right this wrong and get this effort over the finish line, but above all I want to recognize the decades of work that Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe put into making this possible,” said Sen. Smith. “This historic win belongs to them and future generations who will benefit.”

“The tribal leaders of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe entrusted Senator Smith and I with advancing this legislation that builds on their diligent work, open dialogue, and collaboration with the Chippewa National Forest and local communities,” said Rep. McCollum. “With its passage, our federal government is taking a significant step toward addressing the historic injustices that robbed the Band of much of their reservation land.”

“The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Council and our entire community say “chi-miigwech” to Senator Smith, Rep. McCollum, and everyone who helped in this longstanding effort to pass the Leech Lake Reservation Restoration Act,” said Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. “Our Reservation was established through a series of treaties and executive orders from 1855 to 1874, which promised that it would serve as our permanent homeland. The United States violated these solemn promises repeatedly, reducing our trust lands to 5 percent of our initial Reservation. Additional lands were illegally transferred out of trust in the 1940s and 50s. The Leech Lake Restoration Act focuses on these illegal transfers by restoring 11,760 acres of our homelands to tribal trust status.

“Restoring this small portion of our homelands will enable us to combat the lack of housing and related problems that have been highlighted as urgent needs by the ongoing pandemic.

“We look forward to working with the Chippewa National Forest to finalize the plan of survey required under the Act to ensure that transferred lands address the immediate needs of the Band and comply with the Forest Service’s policy of limiting fragmentation of federal land holdings.”

Chairman Jackson closes by saying: “Passage of this bill helps restore a sense of justice that generations of Leech Lakers have worked to achieve. This is a historical day for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Our entire community rejoices today, and we again thank Senator Smith, Rep. McCollum and everyone that helped make this day a reality.”

Specifically, the bill—called the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act—would transfer land from the Chippewa National Forest in Cass County, Minnesota, to the United States Department of Interior, to be held in trust for the benefit of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. This land restoration would honor Tribal sovereignty and allow the Leech Lake Band to invest in its future generations and build more housing to accommodate their growing community.