Federal judge dismisses lawsuit to stop Lac du Flambeau roadblocks
A U.S. District judge says the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has sovereign rights over roadways that have been the subject of dispute between the tribe and non-tribal land owners.
August 15, 2023 • Northern Region
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge on Aug. 15 dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block a northern Wisconsin tribe from barricading roads on its reservation, saying the nontribal land owners who brought the action didn’t have a case under federal law.
The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has been locked in a heated dispute with the town of Lac du Flambeau and 21 nontribal land owners since January, when tribal leaders first set up barriers on four reservation roadways they said were being illegally used.
U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison signaled in June that he would not force the tribe to remove barricades while the lawsuit played out. In an order issued Aug. 15, he dismissed the lawsuit altogether and sided with the tribal council, saying it has sovereign rights over the roadways and that a federal court does not have the jurisdiction to force it to keep the roads open to the public.
About a decade ago, land agreements expired that allowed nontribal people to use the roads to move onto reservation land, and to build homes and businesses there. The agreements have not been renewed. Title companies representing the land owners want permanent right-of-way agreements, but the tribe has said they are only willing to offer 25-year leases.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a separate lawsuit in May, asking Conley to force the town of Lac du Flambeau to pay damages to the tribe for failing to renew the land agreements. In negotiations with the town, the tribal council adopted a resolution that month calling for access payments to be set at $22,000 for the month of June and increase by $2,000 every month going forward. So far, the town has complied.
Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.