July 11, 2022 |Cathy Chavers | Land

Looking Back at a Historic Day for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa

The June 7, 2022 celebration featured a drum circle, speakers, and the opportunity to reflect on this amazing accomplishment. From left to right: Larry Selzer, President and CEO of The Conservation Fund; Kim Berns-Melhus, Minnesota State Director for The Conservation Fund; Cathy Chavers, Tribal Chairwoman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and current President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation; Joe Halloran, Jacobson Law Group; and Jeff Holth, Tribal Attorney with Jacobson Law Group. Photo courtesy of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

On this historic occasion for Bois Forte and our people, I can’t explain exactly how I feel because I am overwhelmed by the idea that we reacquired more than 28,000 acres of our land. Sometimes I just can’t believe that it actually happened. I want others to know that anything can happen; anything is possible.

Even though this outcome is beyond what we dreamed of, land acquisition has been on the radar for this tribal government for quite some time. In fact, one of the goals of our tribal leadership has been to get our land back. Our land is who we are as Native American people. We may not be a financially rich tribe, but we are rich in resources that our creator Mother Earth has given us, such as water and our lake, where our beautiful wild rice (the best in the world) is grown. Our trees, our forests, the earth we stand on, the sky above — everything is living to us. And to me, being resource-rich is the best thing in the world. We care deeply about our resources and our land. That is our priority, and having all the money in the world would not feel better than having all our natural resources.

The June 2022 ceremony was held on the shores of Nett Lake, which is where the Bois Forte Band grows wild rice. Photo courtesy of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

It is important to realize that a significant percent of the land within our reservation boundary isn’t actually owned by us — it is like a checkerboard of parcels with different owners. Long ago, when our people were put onto reservations, the Allotment Act resulted in non-Indians receiving ownership of allotted parcels of land within the reservation boundaries. Also, a lot of our reservation is forestland that holds a vast amount of timber, and so the timber industry saw a financial opportunity. They bargained, traded goods and offered money to tribal members and others who were willing to part with their land.

So getting our land back was a big push for this tribal council. Before The Conservation Fund acquired this property in 2020, we actually met with the owners of PotlatchDeltic to try to work out a way to make that happen on our own. We got a team together and started looking at the map. Even by strategically purchasing parcels near the borders of our reservation and roads, we were looking at spending millions of dollars and only being able to buy 100 acres at a time.

Then I was contacted by Kim Berns-Melhus, Minnesota State Director for The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund had recently acquired the PotlatchDeltic property, and she and her colleagues came to Bois Forte to meet with us and discuss how we could work together to restore our ownership the portion of land within our reservation. It took a lot of work to get to where we are today. A lot of dedication on the part of our partners — The Conservation Fund, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, and the tribal council, our staff — lots of people played a part.

To show their appreciation, Kim Berns-Melhus (left) was gifted wild rice and other special items by Cathy Chavers (right) on behalf of the Bois Forte Band. Photo by The Conservation Fund.


“I have worked in land conservation for over 40 years and nothing I have done throughout my career compares to this remarkable project with the Bois Forte Tribe. Land conservation is about people and I am thrilled to have been a part of this truly historic land conservation project for the members of the Bois Forte Band of the Chippewa.”

- Kim Berns-Melhus, Minnesota State Director for The Conservation Fund

The result is the largest reacquisition in the state of Minnesota and in the country ever. We are making history! This is historic not just for Bois Forte, but also for all of Indian Country, because we have acquired and restored over 28,000 acres for our 3,500 members. This was accomplished through the help of the Indian Land Capital Company, a subsidiary of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation that could offer our Tribe a low interest loan that will be paid back from revenues received on the land. After this purchase, the Bois Forte Band now holds nearly 65,000 acres (approximately 58%) of the Nett Lake sector of the Bois Fort Reservation.  The purchase will also add 524 acres of land to tribal ownership on the Band’s Deer Creek sector. All totaled, the 28,089 acres restores to us 21% of the total land base within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors within the Bois Forte Reservation.

I want to say chi miigwech to express my gratitude to everyone who made this possible. This result would never have happened without the partnerships and collaborations we have developed. That is our goal at Bois Forte — to lead through creating partnerships and collaborations.

We are proud and humbled to be able to bring this land back to our people. Our ancestors are looking down upon us and they are very happy because this land is now coming back. The tribal council is dedicated to ensuring that this land is here for the next seven generations to come, because this is for our children, our children’s children and the future of Bois Forte.

Written by

Cathy Chavers

For over 30 years, Cathy Chavers has served the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, focusing on health care before shifting her career to politics. She has served as Tribal Chairwoman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa since 2016 and is currently the first female President of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

One of her goals as Chairwoman is to be an honest and accountable leader to the Tribal members of Bois Forte. She aspires to provide positive direction for economic and workforce development while incorporating more culture and language back into the Reservation.