Band's friends helped convey rights understandings: No mention of 1837 and off-res rights. . .

By Joe Fellegy

In the half-century following the 1855 treaty, the Mille Lacs Band chiefs frequently relied on trusted friends, some of them prominent Minnesotans, to help convey their rights concerns. The chiefs and these loyal allies frequently made public statements about the issues affecting the Band. This record is voluminous, detailed, and Mille Lacs-specific. It is likely a far better indicator about what the Mille Lacs Band understood about 1837 treaty rights in the ceded territory than was the very skimpy non-Mille Lacs 1837-era evidence used by the judge; and much closer to home than the subjective opinions about "the Ojibwe" ventured by out-of-state witnesses.

Some of the Mille Lacs Band's noteworthy friends:

· Jonathan O. Simmons, merchant of Little Falls and a Minnesota senator, sometimes nicknamed a Mille Lacs "chief." Often called on by the Band to help them with political causes. In 1880 he served on a 3-member committee of prominent Little Falls citizens in charge of drafting, circulating, and sending a petition to Washington, D. C. for the Mille Lacs chiefs. He played a key role in helping the Band market their game. In the fall of 1887 he was invited as special guest to a grand council near the old Trading Post site on the Rum River below Mille Lacs, where the Band's chiefs listed concerns and grievances, spoke of their expectations for the Band and Indian/white relations, and arranged for Simmons to market their game.

· Lucius Hubbard, Minnesota governor from 1882 to 1887. Became well-acquainted with the Mille Lacs Ojibwe and showed obvious concern for their welfare. He helped plead their case with government officials.

· Peter Roy, son of half-breed Ojibwes, educated at La Pointe, and became a government interpreter at the age of 21. Served as interpreter at the old Crow Wing agency and was interpreter at numerous treaties, including those of 1855 and 1863. He came to Morrison County in 1855 and lived in Little Falls much of the time until his death in 1881. He served in Minnesota territorial and state legislatures. Had dealings with the Mille Lacs Band for a quarter century after 1855.

· Joseph Roberts, St. Paul alderman. He met the Mille Lacs Band in 1850 and spent parts of every year with them between 1862 and his death in 1886. He accompanied Mille Lacs Band delegations on business to Washington, D. C., and represented the Band's interests in Congressional legislation there in 1884. The chiefs often used Roberts, who spoke fluent Ojibwe, as their link to the Governor's office, and recruited him to help communicate their complaints and concerns to Indian agents, to commissioners of Indian Affairs, and to other high officials. The chiefs visited him on business in St. Paul. Chief Mazomonie would telegraph Roberts on matters of tribal concerns, and sometimes would summon him to the lake.

· J. V. Brower, prominent Minnesota archaeologist and historian and founder of Itasca State Park. Sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society, Brower led archaeological expeditions to Mille Lacs at the turn of the century, and wrote two books on that work. He helped preserve Ojibwe and Dakota place names in the Mille Lacs area. Brower's books and field notes make the strong pitch that the Mille Lacs Band was wronged by many parties.

· Nathan Richardson, longtime friend, advisor, attorney, and confidant of the Mille Lacs Band for half a century beginning in the 1850s. "Uncle Nate" was a founder of Morrison County, recorder of deeds, probate judge, mayor of Little Falls, an attorney, namesake for Richardson Township, and a state legislator in the 1860s and 1870s who served on the Indian Affairs Committee. Worked with the Mille Lacs chiefs in drafting letters, petitions, newspaper pieces, and other correspondences dealing with their rights understandings. One of Richardson main causes in life was the welfare of the Mille Lacs Band, whom he defended at every turn.

The bottom line: neither the Mille Lacs chiefs nor their prominent friends included off-reservation rights in their litanies of causes and concerns, and they never challenged the state's authority to regulate fishing and hunting in the ceded territory!

This record, incidentally, was largely ignored by Band witnesses at trial. When Landowners attorney Gary Persian asked a key Band witness if he had seen any of the chiefs' letters, any of the Band's petitions, or any other documents showing the Mille Lacs Band understood it had off-reservation rights independent of state law, the witnesses' answer was "no." Nevertheless, the judge's ruling. . .