1854 Treaty

Laws & treaties


Legal history

In 1854, the Chippewa of Lake Superior entered into a treaty with the United States whereby the Chippewa ceded to the United States ownership of their lands in northeastern Minnesota. These lands are called "1854 ceded territory." Article 11 of the 1854 Treaty provides:
"...And such of them as reside in the territory hereby ceded, shall have the right to hunt and fish therein, until otherwise ordered by the President." The Chippewa of Lake Superior who reside in the ceded territory are the Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Bois Forte Bands.

1985 - The Grand Portage Band sues the State of Minnesota in federal court claiming the 1854 Treaty gives it the right to hunt and fish in the ceded territory free of State regulation. Up until this time, the State had applied its hunting and fishing laws in the ceded territory to Indians and non-Indians alike. The Fond du Lac and Bois Forte Bands subsequently join the lawsuit in order to consider a settlement.

1988 - The State and the three Bands enter into an agreement whereby the State makes an annual payment to the Bands ($1.6 million each to Grand Portage and Bois Forte; $1.85 million to Fond du Lac), and the Bands establish their own regulations that apply to harvest by Band members. Under the agreement, the Bands' regulations restrict commercial harvest, big game seasons, spearing, netting and other activities of concern to the State. This agreement, approved by the federal court, does not commit to a legal conclusion as to whether the 1854 Treaty harvest rights remain valid.

1989 - The Fond du Lac Band withdraws from the agreement after one year, but the other two Bands remain in the agreement, which continues successfully to date. Even though no longer in the agreement and no longer receiving an annual payment from the State, the Fond du Lac Band establishes harvest regulations for its own members and Fond du Lac Band members continue to exercise harvest rights under the Treaty in the 1854 ceded territory. As this is done, the Band and the State also consult and cooperate on matters related to the Band’s exercise of the Treaty right, which has continued successfully to date.

1990 - The Mille Lacs Band sues the State claiming harvest rights in the 1837 Treaty ceded territory, which lies immediately to the south of the 1854 ceded territory. This case raises legal issues very similar to those in the 1854 Treaty case. The court divides the Mille Lacs case into two phases: Phase I addresses whether the 1837 Treaty ceded territory harvest rights are valid; if the answer is yes, Phase II was to address the scope of those rights, that is, what the Band may actually allow its members to do.

1992 - The Fond du Lac Band sues the State under both the 1837 Treaty and the 1854 Treaty, both of which it signed. It claims harvest rights in both ceded territories. Like the Mille Lacs case, this one is also divided into Phase I and Phase II. While the case was pending, the Band continued to exercise harvest rights in the 1854 ceded territory under regulations governing Fond du Lac members.

1994 - After a trial, the federal court rules in Phase I of the Mille Lacs case that the 1837 Treaty ceded territory harvest rights are valid. Phase II of the case begins.

1996 - The court rules in Phase I of the Fond du Lac case that the 1854 Treaty ceded territory harvest rights are valid. The court also rules that the Fond du Lac Band's claims under the 1837 Treaty are valid. (The validity of the 1854 Treaty effectively applies to the Grand Portage and Bois Forte Bands as well, because they also signed the 1854 Treaty.)

1996 - The Fond du Lac Band's 1837 Treaty claim is joined with the Mille Lacs case during Phase II of the Mille Lacs case. This is so that Phase II of the 1837 Treaty claims in both cases can be resolved for both Bands together. Phase II of the Fond du Lac Band's 1854 Treaty claims is put on hold until the Mille Lacs case is completed. Both cases are assigned to Federal District Court Judge Michael Davis.

1997 - Phase II of the Mille Lacs case is completed. Phase II addresses in detail seasons, bag limits, methods, commercialization and other harvest issues. Most of these issues are resolved by agreement between the Bands and the State; a few of them are resolved by the court. These 1837 Treaty Phase II conclusions apply to all harvest in the 1837 ceded territory by the Mille Lacs Band, the Fond du Lac Band, and several Wisconsin Chippewa Bands that also had signed the 1837 Treaty and had joined the Mille Lacs lawsuit.

1997 - The 8th Circuit federal appeals court affirms the decision of the district court in the Mille Lacs case, finding that the 1837 Treaty ceded territory harvest right is valid.

1999 - The United States Supreme Court affirms the lower court rulings in the Mille Lacs case. This is a final affirmation of the validity of ceded territory harvest rights under the 1837 Treaty.

2000 - Upon completion of the Mille Lacs Litigation Phase II of the Fond du Lac case is recommenced. The purpose of this Phase II is to address the scope of the Fond du Lac Band’s harvest rights in the 1854 Treaty ceded territory, meaning what Band members would be allowed to do and how the Band and State would communicate and coordinate on natural resource issues in connection with the treaty right. Because of the long history of successful cooperation between the Fond du Lac Band and the State on harvest in the 1854 ceded territory, the goal in Phase II is to address only those resource issues that required further discussion, and to confirm the process that allows the Band and the State to communicate about natural resource concerns, resolve disputes, and deal with ongoing natural resource management issues.

2017 - The State and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that formalizes their past practices regarding the Band’s hunting, fishing and gathering rights under the 1854 Treaty. The agreement outlines collaborative efforts between the State and the Fond du Lac Band to collect and share data that inform annual hunting, fishing, and gathering regulations. The State and the Band also sign a stipulation that is filed with the federal court to advise the court of the agreement reached and which concludes the litigation.