In June of 2022, the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) and the Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC), completed the purchase of 28,089 acres of land within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sections of the Bois Forte Reservation. Previously held by timberland owner and lumber manufacturer PotlatchDeltic Corporation, this acquisition constitutes the largest restoration of land since the Reservation was established in Minnesota under the Treaty of 1866. The Band will directly manage the restored lands under a forest management plan that emphasizes conservation and environmental protection balanced with economic and cultural benefits to the Band and its members.
“This is a historic day for the Bois Forte Band,” said Cathy Chavers, Chairwoman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. “This acquisition represents the largest restoration of land to our Reservation since our ancestors secured what was to be our permanent and undisturbed homeland. This acquisition rights a historic wrong and returns lush forests to the Band to foster and protect in homage to our ancestors and as an inheritance to our future generations.”
The Band entered into a treaty with the United States in 1854 that set aside a region around Lake Vermilion as a reservation, which was later defined through an 1881 Executive Order. In its 1866 Treaty with the United States, the Band reserved two additional sectors at Nett Lake and Deer Creek to serve as its permanent homeland. However, just 20 years later, the federal government changed course, dividing the Reservation land and selling it to timber companies and homesteaders under the General Allotment and Nelson Acts. PotlatchDeltic eventually came to own significant acreages on the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Reservation.
While some land was restored to the Band in 1938 under the Indian Reorganization Act, control of significant swaths of land within the 111,787-acre Nett Lake and 22,927-acre Deer Creek sectors remained out of Band ownership. But an opportunity for the Band to regain 28,089 acres – 21% of the total land base within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors – emerged after PotlatchDeltic sold most of its land in Minnesota to The Conservation Fund in 2020. The national environmental nonprofit acquired over 72,000 acres of forestland, including 28,089 acres within the Bois Forte Reservation (27,565 acres in Nett Lake and 524 acres in Deer Creek). Conversations between the Band and the Fund about the lands within the Reservation began shortly thereafter.
The Band’s purchase was financed by the Indian Land Capital Company, a Certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) providing alternative loan options to Native Nations for tribal land acquisition projects. ILCC is owned by the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a national, community-based organization serving tribal nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands.
A combination of conservation incentive payments under the Minnesota Sustainable Forest Initiative Act, coupled with other sustainable revenue streams that can be derived from the forest, will allow the Band to fully fund this acquisition and promptly pay off the purchase price. Later, the revenue generated from the land will support the Band’s land acquisition and conservation efforts.