Red Lake History Project
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Red Lake History - The Beginning
History of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota

By Kathryn ‘Jody’ Beaulieu
Tribal Archivist

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians is the only Chippewa Band in Minnesota not affiliated with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the umbrella governmental organization formed under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The independence from the rest of the Chippewa Bands relates back to the time of consolidation and removal and today is deeply rooted in the philosophy of the Red Lake members.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians are part of the Algonquian family of aboriginal North Americans. “Anishinabe” or first man is the Ojibwe term for “the people.”

The Chippewa originated on the Atlantic Coast and moved westward to the Shores of Lake Superior. The Europeans first visited the Chippewa in 1612. At that time their main village was on the island of La Pointe because it provided natural protection from bands of Sioux war parties (Brill, 1992) Chippewa movement into the Sioux buffalo hunting grounds was marked by frequent clashes. In 1730, the Chippewa began a relentless march against the Sioux in Central and Northern Minnesota. About 25 years later, the Sioux withdrew from the Red Lake area after a bloody encounter with the Chippewa near the mouth of the Sandy River.

Te Red Lake Band has occupied portions of Northwestern Minnesota since the early part of the 18th Century. When David Thompson, surveyor and trader for the Northwest Company of Montreal, reached Red Lake in 1798, he found a chief and six lodges of Indians. In succeeding decades, tappers, traders, explorers and missionaries moved through the Red Lake area.

The Red Lake Band was recognized as “owning” the entire northwest corner of Minnesota. The first cession of Red Lake lands was through the Treaty of 1863. “When this treaty was negotiated, the Chippewa Indian leaders were conned into turning over 11 million acres of prime real estate in Northwestern Minnesota and Northeastern North Dakota for about half a million dollars. As far as real estate deals go, the ceding of the Red Lake Valley ranks up there with the Manhatten deal, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Alaska deal. It has been characterized as one of the most dishonest and fraudulent deals ever made.” (Grand Forks Herald, September 25, 1988).

In 1887 came the Allotment Act or the Dawes Act, and more specifically, in Minnesota, the Nelson Act opened reservation land to white settlement through pressure by white people. The Act called for distribution of Tribal land to individual Indians in hopes of making us farmers who would assimilate into general society. Indian land was reduced from 137 million acres to 48 million acres as it was sold or given to settlers. Indian people had little to say about allotment. Many seemed to have accepted it as the lesser of two evils. For one thing, the Federal Government offered schools and other aid if they consented. For another, it seemed, like a way to protect their land.

Fortunately, the Chiefs of Red Lake never consented to allotment. The Red Lake Chiefs steadfastly refused to accept the notion of allotment. They wanted to keep the land for future generations. Red Lake is legally defined as a “closed reservation” because the aboriginal land of the Red Lake Band was never allotted. The reservation land is held in common by all Red Lake members.

Another 3.2 million acres of land was ceded in 1889, in exchange for promises of money, education, health care, and aid to farming. A fifty year trust fund was established. However, 80 percent of Red Lake moneys went into a general fund for all Minnesota Chippewa Indians with only a 14 percent return to Red Lake.

On July 6, 1889, at the signing of the Treaty drawn up by the Rice Commission, Red Lake Chief, May-dway-gwa-no-nind (‘he that is spoken to,’ - figure 1) made his last talk at the Council and asked that no liquor be allowed on the reservation, saying, “It would be the ruin of all these persons that you see here should that misfortune come to them.” He also asked that a trader be allowed to live amongst them with stores of goods for the Indians to purchase. He then asked Chairman Rice to sign the Treaty before he did.

Further diminishing of the Red Lake land base occurred on March 10, 1902. Red Lake ceded the area adjoining the Thief River and Red River Valley land known as the Western Townships. Another 256,132 acres were sold. This agreement was ratified in 1904.

The Reservation
The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians live on our aboriginal homeland in Northern Minnesota on 825,842 acres of total land and water. The reservation is 35 miles north of Bemidji, Minnesota. About 6,300 tribal members live on the Red Lake Reservation; total enrollment is approximately 9,800. The reservation is located primarily in Beltrami and Clearwater counties (figure 2). The combined upper and lower Red Lake is the predominate geographical feature.

Reservation population and activities concentrate in around the communities of Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock and Ponemah. Ponemah is about 35 miles from Red Lake on the northern side of the Lower Red Lake and is a culturally traditional community. All towns on the reservation are accessible by motor vehicles, and about four years ago, a new Tribal/State public transportation system was set up on the reservation.

Today the lands of the Red Lake Band include about 400,000 acres of unceded lands, the present reservation, and about 156,000 acres of restored ceded lands. The latter are lands primarily north of the lakes, which had been opened for settlement, but were unclaimed. Because the Red Lake Reservation lands were never allotted, the reservation is populated almost entirely by Red Lake Band members.

Red Lake is the largest community and the center of the reservation activity and commerce. The Tribal offices and services are located there, along with a hospital and nursing home, three public schools and a parochial school, the Tribal Information Center, the Archives and Library, a community center with a pool and gymnasium, a senior citizens building, a day care for working parents, and a shopping center are also located in Red Lake. Other services in Red Lake include the Red Lake Public Safety Department, Tribal Social Services, Red Lake Builders Inc., Red Lake Housing Finance Corporation, Red Lake Gaming Enterprises, Inc., and Indian Action Agency. Red Lake also has three casinos; Seven Clans Casino-Red Lake, Seven Clans Casino-Warroad and Seven Clans Casino-Thief River Falls.

Redby is the location of the cooperative fishery, the Whitefeather-Moe Educational and Technical Training Center (New Beginnings), Red Lake Industries, and Red Lake Custom Doors. Ponemah has a public school K-8th grade, a health care clinic, elderly nutrition program, day care center, a new Fitness Center, and a smaller version of Red Lake’s Retail Center called the Ponemah Market.

In 1989, the Tribal Chairman at that time, Roger A. Jourdain (figure 3), provided a succinct explanation of the “Sovereign status of the Red Lake Band o Chippewa Indians” and a history of the tribal government. “The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized independent Indian Nation who possess all the powers of a sovereign state. The inherent right of self government precedes the United States Constitution and neither the Traditional Chiefs or the current governing body of the Red Lake Band have never relinquished any part of this sovereign right.”

Prior to 1863, the Seven Clans who comprise the Red Lake Chippewa, owned and controlled more than 13 million acres of land in Northwestern Minnesota. Land holdings extended into North Dakota on the west and Canada on the north.

The Treaty of 1854, signed by all the Chippewa Tribes in Minnesota, except the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, clearly established the fact that Red Lake was considered a separate and distinct nation by the United States Government. Each Indian Tribe began its relationship with the United States Government as a sovereign power; recognized by such in Treaty and legislation.

For the Red Lake Band, this official recognition occurred with the signing of the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863. In this Treaty, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa ceded more than 11 million acres of the richest agricultural land in Minnesota in exchange for monetary compensation and a stipulation that “the President of the United States direct a certain sum of money to be applied to agricultural, education and to such other beneficial purposes calculated to promote the prosperity and happiness of the Red Lake Indian.” Further recognition o this status occurred with the signing and approval of the Agreement of 1889 and the Agreement of 1904. In these agreements, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians ceded 2,256,152 acres. Included in the McLaughlin Agreement of 1904 was a guarantee contained in Article V, “It is understood that nothing in this agreement shall be construed to deprive the said Indians belonging on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Minnesota, of any benefits to which they are entitled nder existing Treaties, or Agreements.” The aboriginal government status of Indian Nations recognized by Treaties and Congressional Agreements signed between Indian tribes, caused the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Indians Tribes have a “status higher than that of the States.”

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians passes all the inherent powers of sovereignty they held prior to the Constitution of the United Sates. Among the powers of self government, upheld by the actions of the Red Lake Tribal Council, include the power of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa to adopt and operate under a form of government of their choosing, to define the conditions of Tribal membership, to regulate domestic relations of members, to levy taxes, to regulate property within the jurisdiction of the Tribe, to control the conduct of members by legislation and to administer justice. The current form of government evolved over the first half of the 20th Century from the traditional leadership of Chiefs and Headmen to an elected representative style of self government. This evolution began in 1918 when the traditional leadership was formalized into a General Council and a Constitution written to provide statutory authority.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 gave Indian Tribes an opportunity to change their governmental authorities but the Red Lake Band of Chippewa rejected these conditions of the Act by a majority vote. After forty years of hereditary leadership through the General Council, the Red Lake Band chose an elected form of leadership and rewrote their Constitution.

Since 1959, The Red Lake Chippewa have been governed by an elected Council of three officers: Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer; and eight representatives from each of four districts that comprise the reservation (figure 4).

Under the leadership of the Red Lake Tribal Council, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians have adamantly resisted all external encroachment upon the sovereign right of the Tribe to govern our own affairs. Both state and federal incursions of authority have been successfully denied on the Red Lake Reservation. In that process the Red Lake Band of Chippewa have established precedent setting legal standards that apply to other Tribal Nations. Among the important legal challenges to Tribal sovereignty Red Lake has taken to the courts are:

Commissioner of Taxation v. Brun (174 NW 2nd (MSC 120 1970). The State lacks the power to tax income from wages earned on the reservation by an enrolled member living on the reservation.

White v. Tribal Council, Red Lake Band (383F. Supp. 910(D MN., 1974) Established that the Tribal Courts were the proper forum to decide issues of internal interest.

Red Lake Band v. State (248 NW 2nd 722 (MSC 1976) Issuing motor vehicle license plates is an appropriate exercise of the Red Lake Band’s unique power of self government. Red Lake is entitled to exemption from the Minnesota auto registration, as with a state or territory of the United States.

Beginning in 1986, the Red Lake Tribal Council began issuing passports to non-Red Lake individuals. The government document officially grants an individual permission to visit or conduct business within the boundaries of the Red Lake Reservation. In 1990 under a new administration passports were no longer required but the business permit still exists.
In addition to establishing precedents that uphold Tribal sovereignty, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa have rightfully rejected federal legislation that would have imposed restrictive measures of federal or state influence on Tribal government. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, standing along among the several Indian Tribes in Minnesota and those across the nation, refused to accept the conditions of the Dawes Act of 1887, one of the most destructive Acts of federal legislation directed toward Indian Nations. Rejection of state jurisdiction through exemption from P.L. 83-280, Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction on Reservations significantly distinguishes the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians from all other Indian Tribes in Minnesota.

As the Red Lake Tribal Council exercises their powers of self government, they do so by reason of their aboriginal Tribal sovereignty, not by the delegation of those powers from the Federal government. Some Tribes, refusing to accept or act on the more basic principle of federal Indian law actively seek legislation that would further infringe on Tribal sovereignty. The proposed Gaming legislation is but one example of Tribal leaders who would compromise the sogereign sttus of not only their own tribes but that of all others just for personal gain or short term economic reasons.

If Indian nations are to survive in the 21st Century and beyond, each Indian tribe must reexamine their own understandings of Tribal sovereignty and take action to reaffirm and uphold the basic principle that is the foundation of the Tribe’s relationship with the United States. It must also be recognized that sovereign authority is vested as a Tribal right and not an individual right.

The People
The people of the Red Lake Band use many of the modern day conveniences but still carry on the traditions of smoking whitefish and goldeye over open fires, harvest wild rice, have maple sugar camps and efforts are being made to revitalize the use of the Ojibwe language. The traditions of naming children, funerals, ceremonies to honor the veterans and the Mdewiwin initiation and ceremonies still persist at the Red Lake Reservation.

The drum ceremony may be held for various reasons; to honor the seasons, in thanksgiving for a good harvest, or in successful fishing. The tradition of an all male singers has not changed. The young boys are taught the technique and words when they are very young (figure 5). Women are not allowed within the circle of the singers but may stand outside the circle and sing. There has been changes in the music over the years. Today many singers have begun to use Ojibwe words in their songs.

The jimgle dress (figure 6) is the traditional woman’s dress of the Anishinabe people. The dress has jingles traditionally made out of Copenhagen snuff can lids. The metal lids are bent into cone shapes which are sewn on to the dress. Hundreds of cones on the dress jingle when the dancer moves. Floral designed beadwork (figure 7) is also traditional amongst the Anishinabe people.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians take great pride in the legacy of the Hereditary Chiefs, keeping the land for futuure generations and refusing allotment. In asserting the Red Lake Nation’s sovereign rights, Red Lake was the first in the Nation to establish tribal license plates in 1974 under the administration of tribal chairman Roger A. Jourdain.

Red Lake continues to celebrate its independence by an Annual July Pow Wow and the August Red Lake Fair. Each year, Red Lake selects a new Princess, Junior Princess and Brave at the August Fair.

Sports and the Community
Basketball has always been a popular sport. The “Red Lake Warriors” bring great pride to the community. Many community members have a long history of traveling along with and supporting the team. The Warriors have the distinct honor of having been one of the Minnesota teams selected to play an Australian National. The Warriors were the first all Indian basketball team to make it to the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament in 1997.

The creative spirit has always been an integral part of Ojibwe culture. Many of the traditional crafts continue today. Others such as pottery and basket making are being revived as we shed the impact of colonialism.

Red Lake artists continue the long time traditions of beading, tanning hides, quilting, making flutes, designing dance outfits, and creating art work that reflects both past and present Ojibwe culture.
RL History Main
The Beginning
RLTC Website
1800s p2
Zenith Creation-1492 - Zenith of Mankind's Social Development happens in North America

Creation - Anishinaabe Created in North America.

Flood and Recreation - Earth is flooded. Wenaboozhoo rebuilds earth on back of a turtle. Turtle Island is created (N. America)

Seven Values Gifted to Anishinaabe - Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Bravery, Humility, Wisdom

Migration West - Sacred Migis leads Ojibwe Nations migration westward from St. Lawrence River to the place of Wild rice

1492 - Columbus Invades Americas - October 12, 1492, Columbus lands on Hispaniola in Western Hemisphere. Slaughters and exploits natives for gold. Raw capitalism. Eastern hemisphere epidemics unleashed.

1585 - Sir Walter Raleigh colonizes Roanoke Island, VA - Raleigh conceived and organized the colonizing expeditions to America that ended tragically with the “lost colony”.

1620 - First Contact with Ojibwe 1620-1650  - French explorers and missionaries are discovered at Sault Ste. Marie

May Flower lands on East Coast of Turtle Island

1622  Opechancanough leads Indian Confederacy against Virginia colonists

1637  Pequot War - Belligerent Puritan colonists attempt to extend authority over Pequot's. War almost brings Pequot's to extinction and influx of pilgrims take land.

1640  Beaver Wars (Iroquois Wars) - Dutch trade withdrawal and declining beaver cause Iroquois to expand territories. Push Huron's and SE Anishinaabe towards the Sault

1641  European colonists introduce scalping by offering bounties for Indian scalps -
In 1706 the governor of Pennsylvania offered 130 pieces of eight for the scalp of any Indian male over twelve years of age and 50 pieces of eight for a woman’s scalp. Because it was impossible for those who paid the bounty to determine the sex, and sometimes the age, of the victim from the scalp alone, killing women and children became a way to make easy money. The practice of paying bounties for Indian scalps did not end until the 1800s.

1641  Dutch colonists introduce scalping to Turtle Island by offering bounties for Indian scalps

1653  Ojibwe repel Iroquois from the Sault - During their wars with the Iroquois, the Ojibwe pushed down both sides of Lake Huron and by 1701 controlled most of lower Michigan and southern Ontario. Iroquois wanted new hunting land for fur trade because they depleted thiers.

1662  Ojibwe final repel of Iroquois from the Sault. Reestablish SE Anishinaabe territories

1675  King Philip's War - New England

1679  Ojibwe-Dakota Entente, Daniel du Luth

1690  1690-1710 Ojibwe push West into Dakota country past St.Croix River - The Ojibwe, who have been moving westward for generations, reach the land we now call Minnesota. They encounter forest-dwelling Dakota people already here.

Fox Wars 1690-1733

1693  Fort La Pointe Established at Chequamegon Bay

Madeline Island established as epicenter of Ojibwe Nation at Chequamegon Bay

1698  French withdraw western forts Ojibwe trade with Dakota

1700  Mississauga Ojibwe final repel of Iroquois - During their wars with the Iroquois, the Ojibwe pushed down both sides of Lake Huron and by 1701 controlled most of lower Michigan and southern Ontario.