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Lac du Flambeau leader disappointed by Evers, Baldwin call for mediation in roads dispute

Lac du Flambeau leader disappointed by Evers, Baldwin call for mediation in roads dispute

The Lac du Flambeau tribal president said he’s frustrated and disappointed with Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin calling for mediation in the long dispute about roads on the tribe’s reservation in northern Wisconsin.

Evers and Baldwin made the call in a Feb. 29 open letter about the conflict between the tribe and the non-tribal town of Lac du Flambeau over non-tribal residents using certain roads on the reservation.

“We urge all parties to make a good faith effort to resolve outstanding issues through mediation,” Evers and Baldwin said.

But Tribal President John Johnson, on behalf of the tribal council, asks how there can be mediation when it seems to tribal officials that the town, property title insurance companies involved and certain private landowners have been disrespecting the tribe.

“Had there been genuine respect, this issue would have been amicably resolved over a decade ago, instead of devolving into a politically charged and slanderous dispute over supposed exclusive rights to our treaty promised land,” Johnson said in a March 4 open letter to Evers and Baldwin.

The dispute reached a critical point on Jan. 31, 2023, when tribal officials barricaded four roads on the reservation, cutting off the only road access to the homes of non-tribal residents of some 65 properties.

Tribal officials said the easement agreement for the roads had expired more than 10 years prior and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the title insurance companies that handle the properties hadn’t negotiated in good faith to extend the agreements.

Some homeowners had sued to reopen the roads in federal court, but the court sided with the tribe.

Originally, the tribe had requested $20 million to reopen the roads, to address legal fees and 10 years of illegal trespassing, but later reduced that amount to nearly $10 million.

In March 2023, Lac du Flambeau town officials accepted the tribe’s offer to remove the barricades for 90 days in exchange for $60,000 while negotiations for a more permanent solution continued.

Negotiations stalled and the town is paying an increasing amount to the tribe every month to the keep the roads open.

In January 2024, a federal judge released the appraisal amounts for the four roads, which totaled about $79,000.

That led some homeowners and legislators to ask why the tribe was asking for so much money.

“Since the combined value of all four roads is only $79,000, I feel the $20 million that the tribe is asking is out of line,” said Jennifer Johnson, an affected homeowner. “Yes, money is owed to the tribe for the easements, since that was the agreement set up by the developer and the tribe in the early 1960s. Now, a reasonable amount needs to be decided, with this value in mind.”

Tribal officials said the issue isn’t about the cost of the roads. It’s about sovereignty, trespass issues, being ignored for more than 10 years and general disrespect.

“I realize the tribe feels a lack of respect,” Jennifer Johnson said. “Respect has to be earned, not gotten through barricading, unreasonable demands, refusing conversations and not acknowledging correspondence.”

She said neither the tribe nor the town has started a conversation and that all parties, including the title companies, need to come to the table.

State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, has accused John Johnson and the tribe of “bad leadership” and not being a “good actor.”

She and other Republican lawmakers used the roads issue as a reason to withhold $1 million of promised gaming revenue from the tribe this winter.

Some affected homeowners are appealing to Congress to help resolve the issue since it was congressional action in 1887 that allowed non-tribal people to purchase land on the reservation.

Read the complete article here.

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