Misi-zaaga’iganiing / Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe – MN Indian Affairs Council
The Mille Lacs Reservation is located in east central Minnesota, 100 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The tribal headquarters is near Onamia, Minnesota.
To the Anishinabe or Chippewa who lived along its southwestern shores, Lake Mille Lacs and the surrounding land has a special significance. This part of Minnesota – where the seasons of the year bring cycles of great beauty to the Lake and the land – has been the setting of their history for more than two centuries. For miles in every direction, there is hardly a place untouched by some large or small event from their past. While the Mille Lacs Lake region is now a famed fishing and resort area, to the Anishinabe or Chippewa, it is a place where the past touches the present and connects their life with the people who came before and left a rich tribal heritage.
While they no longer live as their ancestors did, they are a people who have kept the tribal heritage at the core of their life. Their present life is a blend of their own culture and the culture of the larger society that surrounds them. Today, they are a people well known for their understanding and use of tribal knowledge, customs, beliefs, and practices that gave meaning to the life of their ancestors and gives meaning to their own.
The ancestors of all these people were members of Anishinabe or Chippewa bands who made their homes in Minnesota in the 18th century. At that time, each band or group carried on its own political, economic, and cultural life, although close ties existed between those living in the same general area. In the 19th century, when white settlement and development of Minnesota threatened their existence, the Anishinabe leaders in the Mille Lacs region were pressured to cede their lands to the United States government and relocate on lands to other parts of the State. Some Band leaders decided to move while others refused to leave the places where their people had lived for generations. By the early 20th century, federal Indian officials referred to these groups as the Non-Removal Mille Lacs Chippewa Band. This distinguished them from Band members who had resettled earlier on White Earth and other Chippewa reservations in the State.
The Non-Removal Mille Lacs Band members are the descendants of people who simply loved their homelands too much to leave them behind. Through their self-reliance and courage and persistence of their leaders, they survived harsh treatment at the hands of white developers and settlers who transformed their forest lands into lumbering towns, dairy farms, and later, recreational fishing and tourist centers. They also regained a tiny portion of their homelands, which now collectively makes up the Mille Lacs Reservation.
In one way or another, nearly everything about the present day life of the Mille Lacs people – their cultural life, the tiny land base on which they are building a new future for their people, their relations with outsiders and state and government officials – has been influenced by the past. An understanding of their history is essential to any understanding of their present life and provides a portrait of a people who stood against the currents of American history unfolding in the State of Minnesota and won a measure of justice for themselves and the generations following in their footsteps.
The Mille Lacs Reservation is located in east central Minnesota. The tribal headquarters is near Onamia, Minnesota. The reservation was established by the 1855 Treaty. The Tribe owns approximately 16,000 acres of land located within four townships on the south end of Mille Lacs Lake. Additional communities exist in Aitkin and Pine counties and three islands. The reservation has a community center, schools, clinic, museum, casino/hotel complex and Government Center.
The purpose of the tribal government of the Mille Lacs Band is to promote the general welfare of its citizens by establishing duties, responsibilities and procedures for the conduct of domestic and external affairs. For many years, the Band operated under a single agency form of government known as the Reservation Business Committee (RBC). However, the Band determined that a separation of power, similar to that employed by the United States federal government, would be a more effective and responsible way to run the reservation.
Mille Lacs tribal government consists of executive, judicial and legislative braches. Mille Lacs is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The executive branch is responsible for the management and development of all the programs within tribal government. A chief executive is elected for a 4-year term. The Administrative Policy Board (comprised of the commissioners of administration, education, natural resources, health and human services, and the assistant commissioner of administration) is responsible for budget development, personnel oversight and personnel policies. The legislative branch is made up of the Band Assembly and the assistants of the Band Assembly members. The Band Assembly passes all laws, makes changes or amendments to tribal law, passes tribal resolutions and appropriates funds for all tribal programs. The judicial branch is made up of the judges and officials of the Tribal Court. The court is headed by a chief justice, and also served by associate justices. Mille Lacs Tribal Law Enforcement Officials have concurrent jurisdiction in Mille Lacs County, meaning that tribal police have the authority to pursue charges either through County Court or Tribal Court.
The Mille Lacs Band has helped build and diversify the East Central Minnesota economy through Grand Casino Mille Lacs, Grand Casino Hinckley, and other Band-owned businesses such as a cinema, a grocery store, convenience stores, a travel agency, and a golf course.
The Mille Lacs Band hosts the annual East Central Minnesota Business Development Summit, which provides an opportunity for business leaders, state and local government officials, and community organizations to assess regional trends and generate ideas to strengthen local economies.
The Mille Lacs Band Corporate Commission owns ML Wastewater Management, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that provides wastewater treatment services to thousands of residents and businesses on the west side of Mille Lacs Lake and helps protect the lake from pollutants.
The Mille Lacs Band has funded and built hundreds of homes for Band member families in the past two decades. The Band also operates three Elder assisted living units on the reservation, which help keep Elders in their home communities while meeting their daily health and cultural needs.
In District I of the reservation, the Mille Lacs Band operates the Nay Ah Shing Schools, whose standard academic curriculum is enhanced by Ojibwe language and culture programming. Two year-round Ojibwe charter schools operate independently of the Band in the District II and III areas of the reservation. The Band also operates the Mille Lacs Tribal College and makes scholarships available to Band members attending colleges around the country.
The Band operates three reservation-area clinics and public health services that help Band members with fitness, nutrition education, family planning, tobacco cessation, chemical dependency, and other needs.
The Band’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has programs in place to protect local lands and waters and the fish, wildlife and plants that rely on these resources. Its work includes monitoring air and water quality, collaborating with other governments on water and fisheries management, managing wild rice beds, and regulating hunting, fishing and gathering on the reservation.
The Mille Lacs Band, Grand Casino Mille Lacs, and Grand Casino Hinckley have given millions of dollars in charitable donations to law enforcement agencies, educational institutions, hospitals, food shelves, and other organizations and projects that serve local communities and the region. The Band is also one of the three tribal members of the Minnesota Tribal Government Foundation, which contributes to causes that promote tribal sovereignty, advance economic development, and improve conditions on the state’s Indian reservations.