After the publication of the article "TGB votes to only allow tribal members ATV/UTV access on tribal roads," by Joe Morey, News Editor of LCO News that was used by permission in the Sept. 7, issue of the Sawyer County Record, an "official statement" has been distributed by the tribe, "ATV/UTV use on the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Reservation" addressing concerns raised by the Sept. 7 article.
Morey's article details that the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) had voted 3-2-1 in favor of allowing only LCO tribal members ATV/UTV access on all road within LCO's reservation boundaries.
Morey is the public relations representative of the tribe.
The article raised concerns from non-tribal members in the ATV/UTV community whether driving ATVs/UTVs on reservation roads, even where the towns had approved routes, could result in a citation or even seizure of motorized vehicle.
The article also notes the tribe's concern over Sawyer County and towns approving ATV/UTV routes within the reservation without discussing safety concerns with the tribe.
The Record was told that prior to the article's publication that representatives of the towns of Bass Lake and Hayward had been in discussion with the LCOTGB over which roads to officially designate as an approved ATV/UTV route.
The official statement below states that all currently approved ATV/UTV routes are open to the public as the LCOTGB continues discussions with the towns of Bass Lake and Hayward and four other towns that neighbor the reservation.
Official Statement: ATV/UTV use on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation:
"Recently a notice was published on the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Website and Sawyer County Record causing confusion and concern for non-tribal members utilizing routes/trails within the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation.
This notification will address the official position of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Ojibwe and the use of recreational vehicles on reservation roads and trails.
Over the last decade, the rising interest in ATV/UTV recreation has steadily increased and become a proven economic stimulus to the Sawyer County tourism market.
While the benefit for the local economy is clear, the proposed expansion of ATV/UTV use on all county, town, and tribal roadways within the reservation merits meticulous thought and consideration that reflect and ensure health, safety, and welfare of all our Sawyer County visitors and community members alike.
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board is dedicated to avoiding rash decisions and seeking positive outcomes.
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Government is not opposed to providing access to all ATV/UTV guests or residents on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation within the confines of maintaining road safety and rights of quiet enjoyment for LCO members and non-native community members alike.
Attaining a balance for the Lac Courte Oreilles community is critical and the tribal government's final objective.
Government-to-government discussions with Town of Bass Lake and Hayward officials have been initiated and will be on-going into the future.
The tribe intends to open dialogue with the other four townships that reside within the exterior boundaries of the LCO reservation soon to discuss this issue.
In the meantime, the approved ATV/UTV trail/routes within the LCO reservation remain open for the enjoyment of everyone.
Public notices will be disseminated at the conclusion of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governments analysis and decision.
The tribal governing board encourages safe and courteous operations on ATV/UTV marked routes/trails.
The respect for our communities remains the highest priority of our tribe and our tribal land."
For nearly an hour during the Monday night, Sept. 12, Town of Bass Lake Town meeting, a consultant hired by the board reviewed equipment deficiencies or areas of concern with Bass Lake Fire Department vehicles.
For the town board, and in particular Supervisor Jim Evan, the meticulous inventory of deficiencies confirmed the board's action of raising concern over the state of fire department assets that eventually resulted in releasing the former fire chief.
But there also supporters of the former chief and former fire department members who either quit or were fired, who questioned the board's motivation for pursing the equipment review after firing the chief and not before and also questioned the consultant's dire concern over the state of the equipment.
Steve Adamski, owner of Big Water Fire Apparatus of Ashland, detailed some of his 50 years of mechanical experience, including over 30 years with fire equipment, and over 15 years as a fire fighter and paramedic, who had worked with over 50 fire departments, servicing over 150 fire trucks, fire apparatus and engines.
"So I have an extensive background in fire service," he said. "I was asked by Chris Headley (current fire chief) to come down and inspect his equipment."
Adamski said he had originally planned to spend one day inspecting equipment but because of the volume of deficiencies ended up working nine days.
Adamski said he found some serious infractions that had to be addressed immediately.
The guidelines he followed, he said, included the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and federal guidelines.
"When I came down on a Monday, I started doing inspections," he said. "Nine days later, we were almost complete. There's still additional work to be done. I'm thinking we have an additional six or seven days worth of work (left)" and added, "The biggest things that I found on the apparatuses were the tire pressures and the years on the tires."
Adamski said several of the tires on the five vehicles inspected – two fire engines, one tanker, brush truck and rescue vehicle – were noticeably underinflated, especially the tires for the larger vehicle where the tire pressure should be over 100 pounds several were below 80. He said underinflated tires on large vehicles present safety issues while those vehicle are moving.
An Aug. 15 decision by the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals prohibits property taxes on land owned by tribal members within reservation boundaries even if a non-tribal member had previously owned that parcel.
Back in November 2018, Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, and three other tribes – Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff and Bad River – filed a law suit because the Wisconsin Department of Revenue was prodding townships to pursue property taxes on parcels within the reservation boundaries that had been in non-tribal member ownership and then sold to a tribal member.
The plaintiffs contended the state was wrongly citing the General Allotment Act of 1887 for justification to tax. The Act directs/allows tribal land held in common to be "allotted" to individual tribal members, with individual allotments to be held in trust by the U.S. government for 25 years before the individual tribal member received a fee simple patent. Later the Act was amended to read: "... all restrictions as to sale, incumberance (sic) or taxation of said land shall be removed."
A Supreme Court case, "County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation," ruled that tribal fee simple lands could be taxed. However, the complaint contends the four Wisconsin reservations were not allotted under the 1887 Act but rather under the 1854 treaty and only the U.S. Congress could change the tax status of those tribal lands, not the 1887 Act.
According to the complaint, land allotted to tribal members from 1854 to 1924 were included under a "restricted fee patent" with a clause that "... prevented the land from being alienated without the permission of the President ..." and those patents were being issued under the authority of the 1854 treaty not the General Allotment Act of 1887.
In 2021, the Western District of Wisconsin U.S. District Court in Madison did not find in favor of the tribes, but the plaintiffs appealed to the higher court.
The written decision articulates the reason for the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals ruling:
"The Constitution makes clear that Congress alone may diminish the inherent sovereignty of Indian Tribes, particularly where taxes are concerned. Here, Congress has not authorized the State to tax Ojibwe lands. The 1854 Treaty, in light of the historical evidence in the record, is best read to promise tax immunity for even reacquired lands. And the State's surrender theory is premised on cases (Montana and Brendale, in particular) arising in a context wholly divorced from the unique realm of state taxation of Indians on Indian reservations."
A press release from the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) states, "The Court rejected the State's argument that any time land passed from non-Indian ownership to Indian ownership, it remained taxable."
The press release also quotes attorney Vanya Hogen who presented the appeal.
"We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals acknowledged the Tribe's unbroken Treaty rights and recognized that Congress never authorized the State to impose these property taxes," said Hogen. " This is an important victory for the Tribes and their members who have long been subjected to unauthorized taxes – and in some instances threatened with the loss of their home."
LCOTGB Chairman Louis Taylor said the ruling is a "...reaffirmation of our sovereign right over our land, including the land our tribe has reacquired that was taken from our people since the 1854 Treaty."
Much of the land in question was actually divided up in allotments and sold by tribal members to non-tribal members who later sold the land back to a tribal member.
The press release states that LCOTGB is reviewing the ruling "... to detail the impact..."
In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article written by Sarah Volpenhein just after the decision, "Wisconsin cannot tax Ojibwe lands that have passed through non-tribal ownership, appeal court rules," she quotes Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. who said the ruling is "...an incredible decision that affirms what we knew all along in terms of our claim of ownership..."
In the article, Wiggins estimated that if the state had been allowed to pursue property taxes at least 50 Bad River members would have been impacted.
On Monday, Sept. 12, the Sawyer County Record called the Attorney General's office in Madison if the state would appeal the decision. There was no response.