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Today, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (LLBO) announced a major advancement in their land restoration efforts as part of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Restoration Act.

The Chief of the US Forest Service signed a Decision Memo, initiating the transfer of approximately 11,760 acres of federally managed land within the Chippewa National Forest (CNF) into trust for the LLBO.

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The lands, originally seized through illegal transfers, are being returned after years of dedicated advocacy by the LLBO. The recent decision affects 345 Restoration Parcels, totaling 11,778.13 acres. According to teh statement from the tribe, the next steps involve publishing legal descriptions in the Federal Register to formalize the land transfer process.

Faron Jackson Sr., Chairman of the LLBO, said in a statement that the move was one of the most significant positive developments for the tribe since the original treaties were signed and the reservation was established in 1855.

“With immense joy and hope for our future, we celebrate this significant step in restoring our illegally transferred lands,” Jackson Sr., said in a statement. “I extend my deepest gratitude to the Forest Service and our Tribal staff for their efforts in making this land transfer a reality.

For more a century, the Leech Lake people have tirelessly worked to reclaim their ancestral lands. The tribe says the restoration not only addresses critical housing needs but also improves access to wild rice beds and restores justice to the community.

The Leech Lake Reservation, created through treaties and executive orders in the mid-1800s, was intended as a permanent home for the Ojibwe people, who had ceded millions of acres to form what is now Minnesota. However, subsequent laws, starting with the Nelson Act of 1889 and continuing with the establishment of the Chippewa National Forest and “Secretarial Transfers” in the 1940s and 50s, resulted in significant land loss and displacement.

This loss has had enduring impacts, perpetuating historical trauma and resentment towards federal agencies, and exacerbating social issues such as homelessness and overcrowding. Currently, less than 5% of the treaty-guaranteed lands remain in trust.

The signing of the Decision Memo culminates decades of effort and advocacy, reaffirming the rights of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and restoring a vital connection to their ancestral lands. This achievement is a significant step forward in addressing the social inequities and injustices endured by the Leech Lake people.

A commemorative ceremony to celebrate this historic land restoration will be held on July 17, 2024, starting at 11:00 AM at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School (15353 Silver Eagle Dr NW, Bena, MN 56626). The public is invited to attend and participate in the celebration.

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