Legislation to settle KBIC land claims announced
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Congressman Jack Bergman (R-MI-1) this week announced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to settle the longstanding land claims of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and clear the title of current landowners in the community.
Through two treaties signed in 1842 and 1854 – the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community was guaranteed occupancy over a large area of land established as L’Anse Reservation. However, between 1855 and 1937, and despite the treaties still remaining in effect, thousands of acres of the reservation were taken by the federal government without compensation and awarded to the State of Michigan.
The KBIC contends that the inappropriate transfer of these lands has created substantial economic and other harm, through the loss of valuable land in prime locations along Lake Superior that could have been used for a variety of revenue-generating activities over the past 150 years. Meanwhile, non-Indian individuals, entities, and local governments have since acquired the land at issue – in good faith – and now seek to ensure they possess clear title to the land.
Peters introduced the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Land Claim Settlement Act of 2023 with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) – in coordination with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community along with state and local governments – to address longstanding claims of the KBIC while clearing the title of current landowners in the community. Bergman introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan, bicameral and long-overdue effort to settle these claims brought by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community,” said Peters. “I worked alongside the tribe and local community to bring forth this needed solution, and I’m pleased the bill will also provide legal clearance for local residents who currently own the property at issue.”
“Working together to find solutions to our toughest challenges is what makes our area so special,” said Bergman. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done to find a nonpartisan solution to right the wrongs of the federal government and ensure that all parties involved, from the KBIC to the current landowners, have a lasting solution to this decades-long challenge.”
“I appreciate the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s willingness to bring to light this important piece of history concerning the land grant acts affecting the L’Anse Indian Reservation and support federal action to address uncompensated takings from tribes,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“This legislation is a testament to what we can achieve when we come together and work in the spirit of cooperation,” said Keweenaw Bay Indian Community President Doreen Blaker. “I am grateful to Sen. Peters, Sen. Stabenow, Congressman Bergman, and Gov. Whitmer for coming together to find a resolution to these claims that have lingered for so long.”
“The community, just like any other property owner, has a right to be compensated when the federal government illegally takes its constitutionally protected lands,” said KBIC Vice President Toni Minton. “I want to thank Baraga County, the Village of L’Anse, and the Village of Baraga for understanding that and standing with us. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Sen. Peters, Sen. Stabenow and Congressman Bergman for taking a stand and doing the right thing by the tribe. I am proud of our Michigan Congressional Delegation.”
“The KBIC Land Claim Settlement Act makes the tribe whole for land taken without compensation,” said Village of L’Anse President Ron Ervast. “I’m glad our Michigan Congressional Delegation is taking action to right those wrongs, and doing so in a way that preserves current ownership. It’s a resolution that helps everyone, and adeptly avoids picking winners and losers.”
Local leaders have also expressed support for the settlement of the KBIC’s land claims. In a letter to KBIC, the Baraga County Board of Commissioners expressed its support for “a legislative settlement that will right this wrong with just compensation for the land that was taken.”
Likewise, in a letter to KBIC, Village of Baraga President Wendell Dompier said the village supported “a legislative settlement that will allow the tribe to be made whole from the land that it lost.”
KBIC’s land claims involve the dispossession of between approximately 1,333 and 2,720 acres of land transferred by the U.S. government to the State of Michigan as compensation for the construction of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, as well as approximately 2,743 acres of swamplands. The KBIC asserts that as a result of the 1842 and 1854 treaties, these lands were not available for transfer and therefore transferred illegally.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Land Claim Settlement Act of 2023 would right this wrong by authorizing federal funds through the U.S. Department of the Interior that could be used by the KBIC for governmental services, economic development, natural resource protection, and land acquisition.