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Red Cliff Tribe Buys Back Public Lands

State Of Wisconsin, Bayfield County Sell Land To Red Cliff

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa recently bought around 80 acres of land from Bayfield County. The tribe has been working with the county, state and National Park Service to buy back public lands within their reservation.

Bayfield County sold county forest land near Frog Bay Tribal National Park to Red Cliff for around $80,000. The county owns about 1,200 acres of land within the Red Cliff reservation. County and tribal officials have been working to identify lands that may be returned to the tribe. Red Cliff Tribal Chairman Bryan Bainbridge said they’d like to see all of that land back under tribal ownership.

“It’s about preserving, preservation, repatriation, thinking of as we do, the next seven generations having firm foundation for our people moving forward,” he said. “It’s maintaining our existence. It’s like making sure we always have our language. We have to make sure we always have our place.”

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The Bayfield County Tribal Relations Committee identified repatriation of tribal lands as a top priority in a formal agreement with the Red Cliff tribe. Bayfield County Administrator Mark Abeles-Allison said the county plans to use money from the sale to buy other lands for the county forest.

“It worked out for both parties. There was compensation that the county received for the land, and the county is going to take those funds and reinvest them in other lands outside of the reservation,” he said. “County’s forestry goals are going to continue, so it’s going to be a win-win.”

Abeles-Allison said the county is using the roughly $80,000 from the sale to apply for money from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. If the county receives stewardship funds, the money would be used to purchase other lands for the county forest.

“It actually should enhance our timber revenue. Because while we are selling approximately 80 acres, we’re hoping we can leverage additional acres over and above the 80. In the end, our acreage will be higher, which will benefit residents of the county and towns where those forest lands are,” said Abeles-Allison.

Red Cliff also purchased 33 acres of state land from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in February for $60,000. However, Bainbridge said Red Cliff doesn’t have the resources to buy back all lands nor does he feel they should have to purchase lands that historically belonged to the tribe. But, he said it’s one of the few options available to add lands within the reservation.

Bainbridge added the lands are not just where they were placed years ago, but they were important to their ancestors and the tribe’s identity. Red Cliff’s chairman said he doesn’t want to dwell on the past, but he adds the tribe’s history should never be forgotten.

County and tribal officials expect the sale to be finalized by the end of the month.