Federally recognized
Mahnomen, Becker and Clearwater counties, Minnesota
P.O. Box 418, White Earth, MN 56591
(218) 983-3285 ext 235
White Earth Reservation website.
White Earth Tribal and Community College
White Earth Land Recovery Project
Minnesota Indian Affairs Council - White Earth Ojibwe

Total area 837,120 acres;
Tribally owned: 71,357.71 acres
Affiliated: 2500 acres
Non-Indian: 652,364.43 acres
Federal trust: 45,720 acres
State trust: 65,160 acres
Total labor force: 765
Total enrollment: 20,225
Highschool graduate or higher: 61.4%
Per capita income: $4917
Total unemployment: 24.8%%

ONAP, the Office of Native American Programs of the U.S. federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency has compiled some more info -- land and housing statistics and program contact names -- here on their Native programs webserver, CodeTalk.

Located in northwestern Minnesota, the White Earth reservation encompasses about 1300 square miles, but most of that land is no longer Indian-owned, due to allotment and tax forfeiture losses in the early 20th century. The reservation was established by a Treaty of March 19, 1867 with Mississippi Band Chippewa. It was going to be a sort of isolated internment camp to which all the Woodland Indians of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and probably elsewhere were to be sent. In 1899, the Nelson Act made it law that all Chippewa Indians in Minnesota had to move to White Earth. Many refused, or looked it over and went back home to Wisconsin (or to their homes, in Minnesota).

Only about 10% of the reservation land is Indian-owned. Currently the tribe is legally contesting title to all the government-owned land within the rez boundaries through WELP, White Earth Land Recovery Project, which is also attempting to protect some 1,000 burial mounds, near Ottertail (not within rez boundaries now) from desecration. (Lots of good info on the project and the rez on their newsletter page). However, the majority of the Nation's land is owned by white individuals and businesses.

A tribal employee writes to an Indian-interest email list about a recent treaty rights case involving White Earth.

Probably the most famous White Earth tribal member at present is Winona LaDuke, who was candidate for vice-president (on the Ralph Nader Green ticket) in the 1996 Presidential election. She's photographed here at home with one of her children. LaDuke has become well known for her leadership on Native environmental issues -- in Canada (where she helped muster support against the James Bay II hydroelectric project) as well as the U.S. She got her start -- and some computer experience working with land data -- on the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

Until recently, better known than Winona, at least among non-Indian "spiritual seekers," was her father, Vincent LaDuke, through whom she derives her White Earth Ojibwe ancestry. In the 1960's, he took the Indian-seeming name of "Sun Bear" for himself, and did a great deal of outreach to non-Indian spiritual seekers, people with environmental concerns, and hippie drop-outs. He was much criticized for this by a white man who established a more respectable career for himself: a fake Indian who became a University of Colorado Indian Studies professor (Ward Churchill) and wrote several books that pillory alleged careerist fakes (like, but not including, himself). A large number of non-Indian "seekers" know of Sun Bear (who died in 1992). There are several websites for the continuing organizations he founded. Here's one for an organization and magazine that claims some 31,000 members, and lists dozens of books Sun Bear wrote. Sun Bear may be a controversial figure to some, but his achievements are undeniable.

David Bradley (b. 1954) is probably White Earth's best-known painter at present, "He is admired as a painter's painter" (that is one who is influential and inspires other artists), says one recent encyclopedia article on Native art. As well as painting modern Indian times in both modern and traditional styles, Bradley is a founder and important thinker for the Center for the (Native American Indian) Spirit, in San Francisco, where he now lives. He was the only artist to take the top awards in both painting and sculpture at the Santa Fe Indian Market a few years ago.

He was also the leading artist and spark-plug in getting a New Mexico state law passed (New Mexico operates in the largest Indian art-craft markets in the world) to protect Indian art and artists from all the fakes that were (and still are) being sold. This led to a national campaign with 1990 passage of federal law making it felony to market as "Indian" works by persons not tribally enrolled.18 USC Sec. 1159 (1993)--Misrepresentation of goods or products as by Indians This has been controversial because there are people genuinely part of Indian communities who for various reasons cannot qualify for tribal enrollments. However it is outweighed by the degree of fakery, of non-Indian artists selling fake Indian art of all media, and the imports of fake crafts from Oriental countries, that went on and still does go on. (Bradley has also been attacked in print by Prof Churchill, who -- before he somehow managed to get an enrollment certificate to the United Keetoowah Band Cherokees of Oklahoma -- was highly critical of all legal attempts to protect Indian artists via the only clear-cut criterion: National citizenship -- enrollment in a federally-recognized tribe.)

Literary achievements by White Earth writers include Ignatia Broker's novel of traditional upbringing, ending with an elder (really herself) passing the knowledge to a new generation -- a little girl, but really the reader. Titled Night Flying Woman it was published by the Minnesota Historical Society, and is highly recommended. Also gaining a reputation on the national literary scene is White Earth poet Kimberly Blaeser, whose latest book of poetry, Trailing You is very briefly reviewed here.

Perhaps the most difficult and demanding accomplishment by a White Earth citizen has been that of Kathleen Annette, the first Minnesota Ojibwe woman to become a medical doctor. There are still not many Native women doctors at all, the long, difficult and academically demanding courses of study tend to shunt them into lower-level health care professional education. Annette currently administers the regional Indian Health Service Office at Bemidji. She has also written an important and influential analysis on the retribalization of scattered and disheartened tribal peoples.

Engineering is possibly the hardest profession for any   woman to enter. Born and raised on white Earth (but I don't know her family name) is Olivia Poole, recently honored by Canadian women's engineering societies and history projects for her invention of the wildly popular Baby Jumper (sold all over the web for several hundred dollars) in the mid-1950's. She and her husband -- who were living in British Columbia -- formed a company to market it. You can read about it on this Canadian page, honoring women inventors, engineers, and for some odd reason "risk-takers". Perhaps some local relatives will be able to supply more info about her early life on the rez.

Recently retired after a long and inspiring career in Indian education is White Earth member Will Antell. He served with distinction as a director and officer of the National Indian Education Association, and has held many top-level state education positions, from within which he was often able to help Indian people on reservations and in cities get better -- and less racist -- education for their young people, and sometimes even to get some state financing for it, as the non-Indian schools do.

Probably the most widely known White Earth tribal members, for the longest time, all over the world, are the founders and highly publicized leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM): Dennis J. Banks (who is currently working on another Run for Survival) now lives in Kenturcky, where he heads the Sacred Run Foundation. Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, brothers from White Earth, are also among the founders of AIM, which was started in Minneapolis in 1967 and formally incorporated in 1970. These leadeers all remain active in the cause of indigenous peoples' rights and local programs, despite serious heart problems that both Bellecourt brothers have had.

Here's a recent photo of Dennis with a Northwest Coast drum, playing at a benefit performance held August 1996 at the Indian market in Santa Fe. A much older pic shows Clyde Bellecourt taken not long after Wounded Knee in 1973. The photo actually looks more like his brother Vernon, at the time, but it's really Clyde.

Here's some land info compiled by the BIA regional office about mapping/computerized natural resource and environment planning data and software they have available:

White Earth Reservation
Contents: surface vegetation cover type, roads, water, res boundary, county boundary, USGS quad, public land survey

              Usage: Forest resource management and planning 

              Spatial Extent: White Earth Res 100% complete

              Source Scale: 1:24,000 

              Subject: Physical/Biological - Biogeographic 

              Keywords: Forestry, Vegetation, Roads, Water,
               Boundaries, Elevation 

              Locational Classification: Regional, multi-county 

              Availability: Bureau of Indian Affairs,Minnesota Agency

Like Red Lake (and several other Minnesota tribes), White Earth issues their own license plates to tribal members. But because they do not have Red Lake's long history of rejecting all incursions of the state upon national sovereignty (they accepted Public Law 280 for instance, which forfeited tribal-federal criminal and civil jurisdiction, extending state jurisdiction over Indian Country, greatly weakening National sovereignty), they do it through the state of Minnesota. Tribal members must purchase annual update stickers from the state each year, just as everyone else must. This 92 plate shows these stickers at the right, as well as the "star of the north" design (inside an outline of Minnesota upon a tribal shield) taken as a tribal symbol.

That north star motif from the license plates may have suggested the name for White Earth's casino and hotel, that employ 995 people, 70% of whom are described (by 1994 tribal government sources) as "Native American " terminology not used much in Indian Country. Scandals involving former tribal chairman Darryl "Chip" Wadena involved casino (and other) funds, and led to federal criminal convictions recently of Wadena and several others (including non-Indian financial employees). You can see the tribe's uninformative casino ad, and even a pic of the casino complex, and a lot of cars in a parking lot, if willing to wait a long time for a slow server and poorly-designed web pages to load.

One of the uglier features of the recent funds scandal was the fact that various old people, who didn't have pull (or the right relatives) were refused tribal aid for heat in Minnesota's bitter winters, as well as continuing to live in old housing not improved from its shelter capabilities inadequate 50 years ago, in areas of the reservation away from the shiny new hi-roller palaces, both the commercial ones and ones the leadership built for themselves. The same people tooling around in fleets of well-heated Mercedes, while refusing old people minor funds for survival home-heating, could also be heard from time to time mouthing off about "respect for our elders" in the sanctimonious tones of pious frauds everywhere. Regrettable but true: when some long-time residents of other reservations say they do not want   casinos, despite the financial benefits, what happened at White Earth is one of the reasons they often give.

It is a discouraging story, about the power of money within the dominant society's anti-human value structures emphasizing greed and selfishness to corrupt good people. Chip began his career as a stouthearted idealistic young AIM warrior. His tribal political career in the late 1970's was begun with the aim of sparking reform and betterment in tribal government and tribal people's lives. The outcomes seem to me to reflect more the prevalent corruptions of modern America than any problems of Indian people that are personally ethnic. (Though I do think basic character has something to do with vulnerability to those corruptions.)

Other White Earth residents and tribal members living elsewhere go on with their jobs, doing all they can to build a better future for their people, and reaching out -- like Winona LaDuke has -- to aid others when they can. Winona LaDuke, for instance. here (years before the recent electoral publicity) writes about special problems of protecting Indian forests, with examples from other tribes besides her own. And here a search engine has pulled hundreds of web references to articles by and about her. White Earth can be justly proud of this daughter of true tribal traditions and real Native values, and young people can learn much from her life as a role model. Doctors, environmental protectors, artists, writers, inventors, entrepreneurs, educators, leaders of the struggle for rights and sovereignty -- White Earth's people have contributed much to the world.

Continue -- Leech/Cass Lake

TOP of
MN Rez

Text, maps and graphics copyright -- Paula Giese, 1996, 1997 except where elsewhere attributed.

CREDITS:I did the little map. Statistical info comes mostly from American Indian Reservations and Trust Areas, U.S. Economic Development Administration, Department of Commerce, 1996. Jicarilla apache Dr. Veronica Velarde Tiller compiled this up to date information from tribal council sources for all tribes; same super-valuable info as she has in her book, advertised on her website. Other sources: Encyclopedia articles on Minnesota Ojibwes, Minnesota Indians book by the League of Women voters (University of Minnesota Press, rather outdated), and tribal periodicals. The Shooting Star casino logo comes from a guidebook to Minnesota Indian casinos, sold by the Minnesota Gaming Association. The license plate photo comes from a hobbyist's website where there's info (and a few photos) on tribes that issue their own car license plates. The photo of Winona LaDuke and her son are from the website press kit of the Nader '96 organization, linked-to above for a short bio of her. A great deal of the "scandal" information -- including the old people being refused heating aid -- was published in the local press -- mainstream and Indian -- before, during and after the trials. Interviews with some of the elders refused basic human services were published in the Twin cities Reader a general-interest cultural events weekly. The David Bradley - Ward Churchill matter surfaces in one of Churchill's books in a chapter mainly attacking Bradley (and the native Americna Arts and Crats Act), but the real target is national sovereignty, the rights of Native Nations to say who are and who are not their citizens. Churchill also published a series of attacks on Bradley in several Indian newspapers in 1993 and 1994. Bradley responded rather briefly, except in a long article published by Center for the Spirit, but the affair was thoroughly discussed by Oklahoma-born Southern Cheyenne Susan Shown Harjo, president and director of the Morning Star Institute (a large long-established Indian lobbying groupbased in Washington), who's also an arts pro (one of the founders of Spiderwoman Theatre Company) in a long thoughtful article about Indian art, the Arts and Crafts Act, and the Bradley - Churchill affair. Prof Churchill then attacked Ms. Harjo in a number of Indian periodicals. In writing, speeches, the Native press, and organizing activities of his own (Colorado) AIM chapter, Churchill has also attacked both Bellecourt brothers and the continuing existence of Minnesota-based AIM. The details grow too long for a credits footnote; suffice it to say although I actually do know quite a bit of gossip about this and that, published sources are relied upon here for the basis and documentation of opinions expressed here.

Last Updated: 1/15/97