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U. Minn wants to give nearly 3,500 acres to Native American tribe

University president calls her decision ‘historic’

University of Minnesota officials plan to return nearly 3,500 acres of land to the Fond du Lac Band, a Chippewa tribe, following a decision by the university president Joan Gabel.

The recent decision means that 3,391 acres of land, which currently houses the university’s Cloquet Forestry Center, could be returned to the tribe. The land could be worth around $35 million, based on the current value of property in the same area. It has been under university control since 1909.

The state is currently looking into the possibility of approving the transfer.

“The University of Minnesota and state agencies are researching the financing history of various parcels involved in the proposed transfer,” Patrick Hogan with the state’s Management and Budget office told The College Fix via email. “That information will help inform potential legislative and administrative actions required to make such a transfer.”

President Joan Gabel called her own decision “historic” at the February board meeting though no details were provided on what would happen to the courses and activities at the forestry center.

No concrete plan was offered as to how the university’s research and coursework that require the center will continue. As Gabel noted, “nothing is conditional in terms of the transfer or exploration of the transfer of this property.” She mentioned however that the university would appreciate Fond du Lac allowing “university research, education, and outreach to continue on the land in some form.”

The university’s proposal, provided to the Board of Regents, referred to the transfer as a “repatriation of land to its original caretakers” and argues that such action “is in the best interest of the University’s mission as a positive step in repairing and strengthening the University’s relationship with the Fond du Lac Band and Indigenous communities throughout the state.”

Gabel stated that “this is a historic moment, a historic moment. It represents a deep and meaningful step in our commitment through the strategic plan to building strong relationships with all of our tribal nations and indigenous communities.”

Gabel focused on how “important” she believes the repatriation to be in “exploring our complicated history.” Gabel referred to the university’s intended plan of action as “a first step” and insisted that “this is the right time to talk about repatriation of this land.”

She also recognized that “there are considerable steps ahead to address a variety of complicated issues such as ownership of the land, public engagement and consultation, the continuation of research, and a variety of questions that come up for something this complicated.”

The Fix contacted the communications director for the Fond du Lac band by email and asked what the band plans to do with the land and if it intended to allow the university to continue to use it for research and educational purposes. The Fix did not receive a response to an inquiry sent in the past two weeks

According to property listings, the average price per acre in Carlton County Minnesota, where Cloquet Forestry Center is located, is $8,778, meaning the land itself has an estimated worth of at least $35 million. Despite the land’s significant value, neither the policy provided to the Board of Regents or Gabel’s comments addressed the issue.

The Fix reached out to the university Director of Communications Jake Ricker by email to ask if the school has any plans for the facilities located in the Cloquet Forestry Center, if this policy is in the best interest of UMN students and if this decision violated any obligations UMN may have to U.S. and Minnesota taxpayers as a public university. Ricker directed The Fix to a recording of the Board of Regents meeting where the subject was discussed.

President Gabel did not answer similar questions sent in the past two weeks.

According to the university the center “is an experimental forest and a site for researchers, students, natural resource managers, and members of the public to understand the complex systems of forest management, ecosystems resilience, and sustainable management of forest and natural resource-based systems.”

It “provides undergraduate students with intensive field experiences that are essential to professions related to forestry.”

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IMAGE: University of Minnesota

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About the Author
Kyle Reynolds -- Indiana University