This story comes to you from MPR News through a partnership with Sahan Journal.
Dan Whitcomb says he thinks he knows just how much Mille Lacs County’s legal fight with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe over its reservation boundaries has cost his large, extended family living in the county: about $20,000 over the past decade.
“That’s generational wealth that didn’t have to be taxed or spent, at least in my opinion,” said Whitcomb, a Mille Lacs County commissioner from the Princeton area, who was elected to the board last fall.
In late January, Whitcomb was the lone vote against the county appealing a recent federal judge’s ruling in its lawsuit with the Mille Lacs Band.
Over the last six years, the county has spent more than $8 million in attorney’s fees on the case. With an appeal, those costs will grow.
Some lawmakers think the state should be on the hook for the county’s legal costs, which Whitcomb said many people in his district oppose.
“One reason I got elected is that most people, the majority of the people in my townships, want this to stop,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything from anybody saying they wanted to continue spending this money.”
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe sued the county in 2017, after the county terminated its cooperative law enforcement agreement with the band.
Although the lawsuit was over policing, the real issue at stake is whether the band’s 61,000-acre reservation, established nearly two centuries ago by federal treaties, still exists.
The county has long argued later treaties and acts of Congress dissolved the original reservation. It contends the band has only about 4,000 acres held in trust by the federal government.
But a year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson affirmed