Impasse over boundaries, law enforcement continues

Mediation acknowledged as possibility

Milaca – County Attorney Joe Walsh gave an overview at the Dec. 29 Mille Lacs County Board meeting of the presentation shared with Gov. Mark Dayton and his staff when they visited the county Dec. 6 for a briefing about the ongoing effort to craft a new cooperative law enforcement agreement between the county and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
The county revoked the long-standing agreement in July after a series of events caused it to see the agreement as no longer cooperative. Both sides have reported one attempt at a draft and one rejection of a draft. The band asserts that it does not understand why the county sees its actions as noncooperative; the county states that it laid out the reasons clearly in its resolution of revocation.
The 36-slide presentation Walsh delivered summarizes the history of the cooperative law-enforcement agreement, which was first established in 1991. The slides state that the concept of “inherent tribal criminal authority” was then discarded from a practical perspective in favor of shared, state-based criminal authority.
The presentation outlined the growth and history of the tribal police force, which the county says operates through authority of the sheriff’s license shared through the mutual-aid agreement. The tribe has maintained that it only accepted limited, federal help it was offered to address serious crime cases.
Walsh said there is not special jurisdiction on tribal land, and the two sides fundamentally disagree about territorial boundaries. The tribe maintains that its land consists of the 61,000 acres agreed upon in the Treaty of 1855, while the county sees the tribe’s territory as only the 4,000 acres held in trust for it by the federal government.
“The Mille Lacs Band and Mille Lacs County basically agree to disagree about the reservation boundaries for the safety of citizens,” Walsh said, adding that no other counties in Minnesota have a territorial dispute such as this one.
He explained the intricacies of civil regulatory authority versus criminal prohibitory authority and said both forces want to do their own civil regulatory activities. He said it is not beneficial to have two or even three sets of laws that apply to the same group of people and that other laws have tried to discourage exactly that.
Walsh asserted that when former Tribal Police Chief Jared Rosati came on board, the county noted a marked shift. The band seemed to be pushing and testing its limit; Walsh cited withheld and destroyed evidence, a false press release and repressed records. Rosati returned in September to his former role as the Mille Lacs Band Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.
Walsh claimed to have discovered efforts at the federal level to keep information from the county, specifically an opinion by the U.S. Department of Interior regarding boundaries, which he was told was not to be shared with Mille Lacs County. He was not able to ascertain who in Washington, D.C., had instructed the opinion to not be shared and said the governor had asked the same question and would also seek an answer to that question.
Walsh said the county may look into the possibility of state-offered mediation. He explained a few slides that speculate about why the issues matter, which is mostly related to land boundaries. Walsh said he regularly receives calls from real-estate agents in the northern part of the county trying to find out if certain properties are tribal land or not. Some titles apparently say the property “may be in a reservation boundary,” but no one is able to give those callers a definitive answer.
Walsh said the governor had been surprised that he was not aware of the county’s request for data classification, an attempt to make the agreement negotiations private. A state commissioner had denied the request and negotiations remained public, but the Dec. 29 discussion indicated that it’s possible to seek passage of a bill – when legislators are back – that would make the negotiations private.
The county’s consulting attorney for the negotiations, Randy Thompson, also spoke to the board. He said it is important for commissioners to understand that the band has entered into a federal deputization agreement that gives it power to enforce laws among Indians and non-Indians in Indian country, even as the question of “what is Indian country?” remains unanswered.
Thompson said upcoming meetings might give insight, but it was distressing to not yet know the plan when the agreement takes effect in January.