WALKER -- Cass County commissioners reaffirmed Tuesday their intent to continue to oppose placing any additional land into trust for the benefit of Leech Lake Reservation.
County Attorney Earl Maus told the board that since 1995 or 1996, no additional land has gone into trust for the tribe. The board did authorize during that time an exchange of land parcels of equal value with Leech Lake Reservation.
Federal law permits designating Indian trust lands, which are exempt from state and local laws and taxation. Federal laws originally were designed as a measure to protect tribal land from people who might want to take it away from a reservation, Maus said.
What Cass commissioners object to is the expansion of trust lands, because of the potential permanent loss of local property tax base. The county provides law enforcement, fire protection, social services, public health services, roads, highway maintenance and educational facilities for persons living on the reservation, Maus said in supporting the county's objections to trust land expansion.
Maus said Leech Lake has not sought for any land parcels state tax exemption for non-profit status such as for its government buildings. This would be reviewed annually and could be withdrawn if the use changed, he said.
To seek trust status for land parcels, Leech Lake Reservation must seek trust status first from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs Office at Bemidji. There are 22 Leech Lake applications pending, Maus said.
The Bemidji BIA office has approved trust status for three parcels, including two in Cass Lake and one in Pike Bay Townships. The county appealed those decisions Jan. 4, 2002, to the regional BIA office at Fort Snelling, which also approved them in June this year.
Maus now will appeal the regional decision to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, Office of Hearings and Appeals, U.S. Department of Interior at Arlington, Va. The director there will have 60 days to act on the appeals before the board acts on them, Maus said.
Should that federal board find in favor of Leech Lake Reservation, the county can continue to appeal through federal district court, Maus said.
In finding the Leech Lake applications should be approved, the regional BIA director noted Leech Lake Band provides law enforcement, waste transfer station facilities, firefighting services, Head Start facilities, elderly nutrition, surplus food, ambulance and road maintenance funded from sources other than property taxes for the entire community and not limited to Indian persons.
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