Magazine article The Progressive

Native Americans Take Back Land

Magazine article The Progressive

Native Americans Take Back Land

Article excerpt

White Earth, Minnesota

Culture and land are inseparable in the minds of the Anishinabe of the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota.

"Our land sustains our spirit," says Winona LaDuke, who directs the White Earth Land Recovery Project. "The loss of our land has resulted in the loss of our traditional values." The Project is using a combination of lawsuits, direct action, political pressure, and land purchases to recover some of the hundreds of thousands of acres of land that were taken illegally from the White Earth Anishinabe. The group's boldest objective is the return of the 24,000-acre Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, which lies within reservation boundaries.

The Anishinabe lost the land in Tamarac in the same way they lost most of the land in the rest of the original 837,000-acre reservation. Following Federal legislation in the 1880s, the tribe's communal land was broken into individual allotments.

This was done without Anishinabe consent, and largely without the people's understanding. Having held property communally for centuries, they found taxes, titles, and mortgages incomprehensible, organizers say. The result was that most of the land broken into allotments was taken through illegal tax forfeiture or the trickery of land speculators.

The intent of allotment was to destroy the communal nature of Anishinabe culture, to privatize it, and to make "Indianness" impossible.

By the 1930s, less than 5 per cent of the reservation was in Anishinabe hands. It was then that the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge was created. …

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