Tribal History & Historical Photos
Protecting Sovereignty while moving forward to maintain the traditions of the past.
The Ojibwe migrated from the northern Great Lakes area to what is now Minnesota, during the 17th century. Warriors preceded the colonizers and ordered to clear the way for the Anishinaabe families who would be moving into the area.
Ojibwe warriors established a village just west of Duluth, known as Wi-yah-kwa-chi-ga-ming and later called Fond du Lac by French fur traders. These men were believed to be the first Europeans to interact with the Ojibwe in that area.
From there, the warriors pressed on to the Sandy Lake and Red Lake regions sometime between the years of 1650 and 1750. Other Anishinaabe communities had already been established in what is now known as Grand Portage, Pembina and Rainy Lake in Northern Minnesota.
The Ojibwe battled the Dakota for the land in and around Red Lake, eventually forcing the Dakota out of the area. Initially, the Noka (Military and Police totem of the Anishinaabe tribe) settled the area. Other totems were eventually allowed to live in the Red Lake area as well. Many villages were established in the region, and most immigrants were part of Noka totem.
Eventually, the Anishinaabe established an alliance with some Dakota and penetrated the plains of present-day North Dakota, western South Dakota and Montana. The alliance was strong, and as a result, many Dakota began seeking peace from the Anishinaabe.
Fur trading brought Ojibwe into contact with French Canadians which resulted in inter-marriage among the peoples. During the Seven Years War, the Ojibwe joined the French in fighting against the English. The war later became known as the French and Indian War. While the French were defeated, the Ojibwe continued to maintain their fur trade as well as family associations with the French Canadians.
During the 1850s, Roman Catholicism was introduced to the Red Lake Band. Two priests arrived and established a mission. Eventually, Catholic nuns from a Benedictine Monastery in St. Joseph, arrived to establish the St. Mary's Mission, which continues to provide services yet today. The nuns established a boarding school for Ojibwe girls, teaching them the fundamentals of Catholicism and English.
Catholicism became the predominant religion among the Red Lake members; however, many continued to practice traditional Ojibwe rituals, including those regarding mourning and funeral rites.
The Red Lake Band aligned with the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians in 1863, and successfully negotiated the "Treaty of Old Crossing" with the federal government. In that treaty, they agreed to ceed lands in the Red River and Pembina areas. In subsequent decades, additional agreements of land cessions were made as the result of increased pressure from European-American settlers in the area.
During the late 1800s, the United States and Canada surveyed the international border between the two countries to correct errors. Using the corrected borders, the Northwest Angle was included as part of the United States along with the historic residents — the Lac du Bois Band of Ojibwa. Because they did not have federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal government consolidated the Lac du Bois Band administratively with the Red Lake Band.
Several large tracts of land were ceded to the United States but the Tribe maintained control of the central portion of the land. The Red Lake Band successfully resisted the governments attempt to gain approval for allotment of land to individual households under the Dawes Act of 1889. This Act was intended to "aid assimilation" by dividing communal tribal land into smaller household-sized plots of land for farming and private ownership.
The Act also provided that once each head of household was allocated 160 acres of land, the remaining "surplus" land would be made available for sale to non-Indians. The arbitrary allotment was done without consideration to the nature or type of lands, and not all lands were suitable for cultivation. The end result deprived Native Americans of millions of acres of traditional territory.
In resisting the Dawes Act, the Red Lake Reservation remains "untouched Indian land," as it has never left tribal control.
The United States broke treaty promises on July 8, 1889. Minnesota Chippewa were told only the Red Lake and White Earth reservations would be retained, while the rest would be put up for public sale and the Ojibwe residents would be relocated to White Earth Reservation.
The government refused to deal with the Chippewa on a nation to nation basis. Instead, officials informed the leaders that members of each reservation would vote on whether to accept allotment at that reservation with voting confined to qualified Chippewa men. The Chippewa leaders were outraged. While they were certain the Anishinaabe men would follow their instructions, they were less certain of the allegiance of the Dakota who were residing on the Mille Lacs and White Earth reservations.
There was also a deep-seated distrust among the Chippewa leaders and white men who were entrusted to count the votes because of the many deceptions which had occurred in the past. Many felt the counters altered the actual numbers. Red Lake leaders warned the United States government of reprisals in the event their reservation was violated. Eventually, the reservations at White Earth, Mille Lacs and Leech Lake voted for land allotments.
The Red Lake Reservation encompassed 3,260,000 (5,093 square miles) in 1889. The Band was forced to cede 2,905,000 acres as "surplus" after the allotment to households registered on the Dawes Rolls took place. The reservation was left with a little more than 300,000 acres of land that included all of Lower Red Lake, and most of Upper Red Lake.
Due to unrest among the Red Lake Band following the vote, the United States eventually set aside large areas of forests to add back to the reservation. However, in 1904, U.S. officials returned and forced the Red Lake Band of Chippewa to cede more land that was set aside in 1889. The present day boundaries date to the 1904 Land Act. The federal government forbade the allotment of land to individual Chippewa living on the Red Lake Reservation.
Red Lake Reservation is owned and occupied entirely by members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians — the only such reservation in Minnesota. The Tribe has resisted joining other Minnesota tribes as was the case in 1934, when Red Lake was encouraged to join six other Chippewa Bands under the Indian Reorganization Act. The act encouraged tribes to restore their governments; however, Red Lake leaders were adamant upon retaining the tradition of hereditary chiefs as opposed to an elected government. They did not want to give up any of their control.
By the 1950s, though, new tribal leaders wrote a constitution to establish a democratic process for the purpose of electing the tribal chairman and council members, without term limits. In 1959, the first tribal elections were conducted and Roger Jourdain was elected chairman. He would continue to be re-elected until 1990
In the latter half of the 20th century, Red Lake began developing its infrastructure, including water and sewer, improved roads and better housing. The Tribe maintains its own school to allow children to be educated on the reservation. In addition, a Tribal college is available for those wishing to pursue post-secondary opportunities on the reservation.
The tribe maintains its sovereignty and determines who is allowed to visit the reservation, as well as who is allowed to remain within its borders. The Tribe was also the first in the United States to issue its own vehicle license plates.
Recently, the Tribe established a department to assist with expanding the economic base of the tribe and promote job development. The Economic Development Department is responsible for assisting Tribal members in establishing their own businesses and marketing items off the reservation.
The Tribe continues to move forward while maintaining the traditions of the past.