County agrees to mediation in law-enforcement agreement

Milaca – Mille Lacs County and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe have been at odds since June 2016 regarding the long-standing cooperative law enforcement agreement between them, and the board agreed at its Jan. 17 meeting to participate in mediation at the request of Gov. Mark Dayton.
The mutual aid agreement has enabled tribal police and county deputies to work collaboratively in fighting crime within the boundaries of the reservation and throughout the county. The county revoked the agreement, stating it is no longer cooperative for a number of reasons. The Mille Lacs Band maintains that it has done nothing to threaten the cooperative nature of the agreement.
While the negotiations do not directly affect land boundaries, the two sides have disagreed for decades about territory. The Mille Lacs Band sees its reservation as the 61,000 acres granted it in the Treaty of 1855; Mille Lacs County asserts that reservation boundaries have changed over the years due to subsequent treaties and agreements.
Toward the end of 2016, each entity had presented and rejected a draft agreement. Generally, the band claims that the county’s first draft was unacceptable, and the county claims that the band’s counterproposal was simply the old agreement with a few tweaks.
Historically, tribal police derive their state-granted authority through the county sheriff’s license via the cooperative agreement. Without that agreement, the tribal police force has plenty of personnel and resources but limited authority; the county has taken measures to augment its force so that more deputies are on hand in the north end. Additionally, other complicated issues are tied to the agreement, such as crime prosecution, evidence gathering and storage, and federal assistance available to the tribe.
A federal mediator offered to help, but the county declined and claimed it is wary of faulty information received from federal sources. At its recent meeting, the Mille Lacs County Board indicated that federal involvement is not needed, and it voted to participate in a “collaborative problem-solving process” facilitated by the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services Office for Collaboration and Dispute Resolution.
A document from the office states that it will spend about two weeks reviewing documents and interviewing representatives. It will adopt a process agreement, or a set of steps to be followed to solve the problem. After the assessment and process agreement, both parties “will participate in mediation sessions to resolve the law enforcement dispute.” A timeline for the actual mediation will be determined after the initial assessment.