Land owners file lawsuit in Lac du Flambeau right-of-way dispute

A lawsuit filed Feb. 28 asks a judge to either declare that blocked roads in Lac du Flambeau are public and required to stay open, or declare property owners have a right to cross the tribal land by necessity.

Associated Press

March 2, 2023 • Northern Region

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A wood road barrier with Roads painted on its side and two concrete blocks connected with a metal chain sit in front of a road covered in snow, with trees in the background.

The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Indians set up four road blocks on Jan. 31 in its dispute with title companies of right-of-way agreements on roads on tribal land. (Credit: Courtesy of WJFW-TV)

AP News

By Harm Verhuizen, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Northern Wisconsin land owners have asked a federal judge to order the removal of barricades set up by a Native American tribe in a decadelong dispute over roads it claims were illegally built on tribal land.

The owners of 21 homes and businesses on tribal land said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Madison on Feb. 28 that they have only been able to leave their residences for medical appointments since the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians put up four roadblocks on Jan. 31.

Tribal leaders said they resorted to the extreme measures after 10 years of failed negotiations with title companies representing property owners who have expired right-of-way agreements to use the roads on tribal land. The title companies want permanent right-of-way agreements, but the tribe has only been willing to offer 25-year leases, according to a statement last month.

“Essentially, they are asking us to give up our land. We have given up millions of acres of land over generations. We now live on a 12-by-12 square mile piece of land known as a Reservation,” the tribe said in a Feb. 9 statement. “This is all we have left.”

Tribal leaders have demanded that property owners and the title companies pay $20 million to remove the barricades and secure a 25-year right-of-way agreement.

The lawsuit asks a judge to either declare the roads public and therefore required to stay open or declare that the property owners have a right to cross the tribal land by necessity.

An attorney for the tribe was not yet listed Wednesday. Attorney Andrew Adams III, who previously represented the tribe in the land dispute, has not returned a voicemail asking for comment.

Some residents of the estimated 65 homes without road access feel they’ve been “held hostage,” the Green Bay Press Gazette reported. Others have crossed a frozen lake on snowmobiles to circumvent the roadblocks.

Residents without road access still have access to emergency medical services, propane, mail delivery and garbage removal, the tribe said, and tribal police have been checking in on residents to ensure their safety.

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. Follow Verhuizen on Twitter.

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