LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wis. (AP) — A Native American tribe and a northern Wisconsin town have reached an agreement under which the tribe will temporarily reopen four barricaded roads that are the subject of a decadelong dispute and a recent lawsuit.
On Jan. 31, tribal officials barricaded the roads, which traverse tribal land, cutting off non-tribal residents who live on about 65 properties from the only access for vehicle traffic to their homes.
Tribal officials said the easement agreements for the roads expired more than 10 years ago. They argue that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the title insurance companies that handle the properties had not negotiated in good faith to extend the agreements.
Tribal Chairman John Johnson had previously said residents had been trespassing on illegally built roads on tribal lands and the tribe needed to safeguard what little land it has left.
Gov. Tony Evers wrote last week to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the title insurance companies and tribal and town officials, urging them to come to a resolution.
A law firm representing many of the non-tribal residents sued the tribe on Feb. 28, demanding the roads be reopened. The lawsuit alleges the tribe “took the law into their own hands and illegally barricaded public roadways, despite the fact that they must be ‘open and available to public use’ under federal law.”
But a federal judge disagreed with that assertion and denied the residents’ request last week. The judge also questioned if the federal court has jurisdiction to issue an injunction on tribal land.
Since the barricades went up many residents have been using snowmobiles to travel across woods and frozen lakes to get supplies, but that ice will begin melting soon.
Marti Hunt, one of the affected residents, called the temporary agreement a short-term fix.
“We have a way out when the ice is no longer safe to cross, but it does not solve the long-term problem,” Hunt added.