Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)


June 8, 1988

Red Lake Sawmill Court Case

by Francis Blake
NEWS correspondent

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT, Dockets Number 85-5272 and 97-5188.  (Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Red Lake, Minnesota, and Roger A. Jourdain, Chairman, Red Lake, Minnesota, v. Earl J. Barlow, Area Director, Minneapolis Area Office and Rex Mayotte, Superintendent, Red Lake Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior, Donald Hodel, Secretary of Interior, U.S. Department of Interior.)

    Filed on May 2, 1988, the United States Court of Appeals ruled on the Red Lake Tribal Council’s complaint of August 3, 1983 to transfer $800,000 from the “Sawmill Account” [U.S. Trust Account No. 14X7285] to the operating budget of the Red Lake Tribal Council.  The Court rules to “require the Secretary [of the Interior] to determine the viability of a forest products business on the Red Lake Reservation,” in “an informal decision-making process.”  If the Secretary of the Interior feels that this $800,000 can be spent on forestry on Red Lake Reservation, then this money will stay under the control of the United States Government, in the “sawmill account.”

Approximately 11.9 trillion dollars ($11,900,000,000,000.00) worth of timber has been taken off of the Red Lake Indian land which the Red Lake Indian Nation kept under the 1863 Treaty (see map).  The United States Government has, under White European law, claimed Trusteeship over Indian people since 1824, explaining, “But now take a community that is not free ... a prison, an orphan asylum, a regiment of soldiers.  That is not self-governing; that is under control; that is a ward of the people. ... That is precisely the position which we are in with reference to the Indians.  They are under control.  They are our wards.  They are not free, not self-governing.”  Under this trusteeship, the $11.9 trillion which should be in the Red Lake Indian forest account has shrunk to $800,000.  According to the original complaint filed by the “Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Red Lake, Minnesota, and Roger A. Jourdain, Chairman, Red Lake, Minnesota,” this $800,000 trust account includes “tribal income derived from the sale and operation of tribal resources.”

This suit was filed by “Tribal Attorneys” Edwards, Edwards and Bodin of Duluth.  Tribal Attorneys are “duly appointed” and approved by the Secretary of the Interior.  Under White United States law, nobody can be sued twice for the same thing.  This suit, along with all the cases heard by the United States Court of Indian Claims, is orchestrated, by the United States Government and the attorneys which the U.S. approves “for” Indian tribes, to protect the United States from future lawsuits over the liabilities which the U.S. Government owes Indian people: reparations, payment for land and resources stolen, damages, compensation for genocide and forced acculturation.  The present case is also a red herring to divert public attention from the legitimate claims of Indian people.

The Act of May 18, 1916 (39 Stat. 123, 137-8), amended on August 3, 1956 and again on August 28, 1958, used White law to “create a forest reserve” out of a forest which had already existed for hundreds of thousands of years on sovereign Red Lake Indian land.  This Act, as amended, gives the Secretary of the Interior a blank check to administer our forest and operate the Red Lake Sawmill.  Section 9 of this Act reads, “... The Red Lake Indian Forest shall be administered by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with principles of scientific forestry that will encourage the production of successive timber crops for the benefit of the Indians of the Red Lake Band, and he is hereby authorized to harvest, sell and manufacture such marketable timber from any tribal lands within the Red lake Indian Reservation as he may deem to be advisable and, if the timber is the growth of Red Lake Indian Forest, in keeping with foregoing principles, ... (b) to establish nurseries and otherwise provide for the reforestation of said lands, and to construct sawmills and other facilities for the manufacture into marketable products of the timber harvested from said lands ... and (e) to employ such persons and use such means as he may find necessary to carry out the provisions of the foregoing provisions.  Any proceeds derived from sales of timber or timber products under this paragraph may be expended in payment of the expenses of any of the activities authorized by this paragraph, including construction expenses.”

According to the Solicitor’s opinion (July 31, 1951), “Under a provision in an annual appropriation act which states, without limitation or exception, that tribal funds may be advanced to Indian tribes for ‘such purposes as may be designated by the governing body of the particular tribe involved and approved by the Secretary,’ it is legally permissible for the tribe, with the concurrence of the Secretary of the Interior, to use the net proceeds from  the operation of a tribal sawmill for the purpose of meeting supervisory and scaling costs incurred in the sale of reservation timber ... in connection with the sale of cordwood and cedar from Little Pine Island.”  [The money from the Little Pine Island timber has disappeared.]

In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to recognize the Red Lake Tribal Council, and the 1958 Amendment to the Forestry Act read that the Secretary of the Interior could do whatever he wanted to Red Lake Indian Forests, “without Tribal Consent,” “because there was no Tribal Council.”  Under these White laws, the United States Government can do whatever they want to do what they haven’t already destroyed of the Red Lake Indian Nation’s forests, without our consent.  Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay explained the U.S. Government’s attitude about “consent” in 1955, “In short, it seems to me that the principle of Indian ‘consent’ ... has most serious Constitutional implications... I believe it would be extremely dangerous.”  The Forestry Act openly violates Indian human and civil rights, as well as International Law.  Instead of talking about this, the Tribal Council has disenfranchised ourselves and our future generations, and participated in an orchestrated suit about $800,000 which is already spent.

The 1916 Act as amended required the Secretary of the Interior to administer the Red Lake Indian forests “for the benefit of the Indians of the Red Lake Band.”  According to Tribal Council Resolution 236-82, during the six months between October 1,1 979 and March 31, 180, the operating loss of the Red Lake Mill under the administration of the Secretary of the Interior was $314,752.62.  [According to the Department of the Interior, which published an account for Congress on June 24, 1958, the balance of the Account on January 31, 1958 was $1,455,440.29.]  The Tribal Council requested a full audit of U.S. Trust Account No. 14X7285, the “sawmill account,” but the U.S. Government would not provide it.  Using the Freedom of Information Act, this reporter and other members of the Red Lake Indian community have also requested accounting of the four “U.S. Trust Accounts” [including a second sawmill account, No. 14X7785] of Red Lake Indian peoples’ money held by the U.S. Treasury under White law.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs Trust Office would not provide accounts of these trust funds to enrolled members of the Red Lake Band and descendants of the signers of the Treaty (who the money belongs to), claiming that “it would take too many man-hours,” [the B.I.A. has all the Trust Accounts computerized], and then claiming that the Privacy Act prevented release of the information.  Whose privacy does hiding how $11.9 trillion disappeared protect?

On May 30, 1985, Judge Miles Lord found in favor of the “Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians,” ruling that $127,788.61 should be transferred to the control of the Tribal Council.  The Tribal Council accepted this $127,788.61 payment instead of the $800,000 they sued for—and instead of the actual $11.9 trillion owned, and spent the money.  The United States Government Department of the Interior appealed the decision.  Among their assertions was that the “Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity prevents the Red Lake Indians from suing the United States Government.”  The Sovereignty of the Red Lake Indian Nation was not considered.  According to the defense, release of Red Lake Indian Money from the Sawmill Trust Fund “would expend itself on the public treasury,” although [they write two pages later], “the United States merely holds the money for the beneficial owners, here, the Red Lake Indians.”  The U.S. Government also said that the only way that they would even consider releasing the Sawmill Trust funds would be as a per-capita payment [about $106 per person].  The Tribal Council requested transfer of the funds to Account No. 14X7284, which “is the general fund which the Tribal Council uses for administrative purposes.  Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs must approve the release of funds from this account, this approval is essentially pro forma ... and pursuant to the Tribal Council’s annual budget.  The money is paid to the Tribal Council directly ...”

If this court case was legitimately in the interests of the Red Lake Indian people, the case would be well-publicized on Red Lake Indian Reservation, ad the Tribal Council would be calling on the Red Lake Indian people to back them up in court.  The copy of the court proceedings which the Ojibwe News obtained had fourteen pages of the Tribal Council’s exhibits missing.


1888 Red Lake map
Map of  Red Lake reservation published in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1888

19988 aerial photo of clearcut at Red Lake
1988 aerial photo of clearcut logging at Red Lake


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