Three Chippewa Bands in northeastern Minnesota sign historic document with U.S. Forest Service
Photo courtesy of US Forest Service

Three Chippewa Bands in northeastern Minnesota sign historic document with U.S. Forest Service

Tribal officials from three Chippewa Bands signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Forest Service this week to provide for co-stewardship and protection of “treaty-reserved rights under the 1854 Treaty” across the massive Superior National Forest.

The agreement, signed on May 2, is the first of its kind between the Chippewa Bands and the Forest Service.

The MOU recognizes the sovereign tribal nations as the original stewards of land now encompassing the 3.3-million-acre Superior National Forest. The document outlines procedures to ensure that input from the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage Bands is meaningfully incorporated into Forest Service decision-making.

“The signing today is a commitment, a call to action for the U.S. Forest Service, that when we sign this piece of paper with words on it, that it is not just going to stay a piece of paper with words, that we are going to live out that commitment to each other,” said April McCormick, the secretary/treasurer of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “We are leading alongside one another to enhance and protect our treaty reserved resources within the 1854 ceded territory and the Superior National Forest.”

The document signed by the three Chippewa Bands also includes provisions for designation and protection of culturally sensitive areas across Superior National Forest, coordination on forest management objectives, and Tribal-Forest Service training. The agreement builds on the steps taken by the US Forest Service in 2021 when Superior National Forest hired its first tribal liaison. 

Cathy Chavers is the chairperson of of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. She said that in addition to an agreement with the Forest Service, it was important that all three Chippewa Bands within the 1854 Treaty area were open to “coming together as one.”

“As Tribal leaders, (we) are charged with caring for our natural resources,” she said. “This includes our elders and youth. We also must think of the next seven generations by building partnerships and strengthening relationships to work together to achieve that common goal.”

Through the MOU, the Chippewa Bands and the Forest Service commit to jointly pursuing funding opportunities to support co-stewardship within the Superior National Forest, according to a press release sent to WTIP May 5.

Through this agreement, the release states, the Bands will assist the Forest Service using deep place based Tribal traditional ecological knowledge to support shared goals of protecting and enhancing the land and water for future generations.

“This is a great tool in the toolbox, moving forward to protect this land we have very little of left, as we have approximately 20% of our 6.2 million acres of the 1854 Treaty area remaining for access by tribal members,” said Bobby Deschampe, chairperson of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, “Today we are protecting all we have left. Chi Miigwech to everyone who worked on this.”