We have a hostage situation going on in Vilas County. I wrote a little about it for the Washington County Daily News. Here’s a part:
After years of wrangling through a convoluted mess of contracts, bad record keeping, broken promises, state, local, federal, and tribal laws, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has decided to blockade dozens of non-tribal families in the dead of winter. In a dramatic escalation, tribal officials are demanding $20 million in order to lift the blockade.
The root of the issue rests in the 19th-century Dawes Act when the federal government broke communal tribal lands into parcels to be allotted to tribal families as private property in exchange for U.S. citizenship. Some of those private parcels wound up in the hands of non-tribal people through sale, foreclosure, and other means by which private property changes hands. Now, more than a century later, those private parcels are owned by non-tribal families who are being blockaded.
On January 31, in a grotesque escalation, the tribe blockaded the four artery roads with concrete blocks and wire. About 60 homes are sealed off from the outside world except for emergencies. Even then, tribal authorities must be called to open to roadblocks ahead of time. Some residents have been forced to abandon their homes entirely while others are having to use snowmobiles and sleds to cross the frozen lakes to get supplies, medical care, work, and attend school. With the spring thaw looming, they are weeks away from losing that frozen lifeline.
To lift the blockade, the tribe is demanding $20 million for a 15-year easement. This is an exorbitant sum for a simple easement, but the tribe seems content to hold non-tribal homeowners hostage in order to extort the sum. For comparison, the most recent offer that the tribe rejected was for about $1.1 million plus all future state gas tax revenues from the town for perpetual access.
The most innocent party in this whole dispute is the one suffering the most — the homeowners. They bought their properties in good faith and have been dutifully paying their taxes to maintain the schools, emergency services, and, yes, roads. Yet their property values have been obliterated, their lives are being disrupted, and their safety is being endangered.
The situation has reached a crisis point and real leadership will be needed to resolve it. It is unacceptable that one group of Americans should be blockading another group of Americans as a negotiating tactic in a legal dispute. This is not about sovereignty or some noble cause. It is about cold, hard, cash. If the tribe will not immediately lift the blockade and return to the negotiating table, the governor must step in to protect the homeowners from being used as hostages.
Six days ago 28 of the homeowners filed a federal suit against the tribe.
This is the letter from the plaintiff’s law firm to the tribal council’s law firm outlining the decade long battle and a warning if the barricades weren’t removed by Feb28:
Seems the tribe itself wasn’t exactly interested in a quick resolution.
I suggest the homeowners engage in a little self-help.