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Town of Lac du Flambeau to ask tribal government for 60-day moratorium on roadblocks while they work towards a resolution

People packed into the Lac du Flambeau Town Hall Thursday afternoon for an emergency meeting regarding blockades that had been put up by the Lac du Flambeau Tribe on four roads on reservation land but block access to private homes.
Katie Thoresen
People packed into the Lac du Flambeau Town Hall Thursday afternoon for an emergency meeting regarding blockades that had been put up by the Lac du Flambeau Tribe on four roads on reservation land but block access to private homes.

Updated 2/3/23 at 5:30 p.m. with information for the Lac du Flambeau Tribe.

Frustration grows in the Lac du Flambeau community over issues related to road access for private property through reservation land.

As WXPR previously reported, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa put barricades up on four roads Tuesday blocking people from their homes.

The tribal government says the Town of Lac du Flambeau and the involved title companies have not always negotiated fairly over the last 10 years after right-of-way easements expired.

The town board held an emergency meeting Thursday.

While comments and questions were kept mostly civil, people who no longer have easy access to their homes voiced their frustrations with the town, the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, and the title companies.

Homeowners raised concerns about safety and first responders getting through the gates quickly enough, especially if there's a heavy snowfall. Some tribal members who spoke at the meeting said they wanted to work together to find a resolution. Other people offered ideas on how to get the barriers lifted.

Most people, like Mike Hornbostel, just wanted a straight answer on how to resolve this issue.

“Everybody in here has made phone calls, haven’t you? Trying to help resolve this. Trying to get answers, but we’re not going anywhere,” said Hornbostel.

As of Friday evening, barriers were still up on the roads.

People who chose to stay in their homes have expressed safety concerns like first responders getting through quickly enough and refueling heating systems in the bitter cold this week.

The Lac du Flambeau tribe responded to those concerns in a statement Friday evening:

"All affected residents have access to EMS services, propane, mail delivery, and waste disposal services. The Tribal Police have been conducting health and welfare checks on all residents, twice daily. Staff have assisted at least two residents by offering to pick up and deliver medications at off-reservation pharmacies. Tribal program staff have also reached out with offers of food box delivery, and have also reached out to provide additional assistance, as needed. We understand that this is a difficult time for those residents, and have tried to show compassion for their predicament. Compassion that has clearly not been considered by the representatives from the Title Companies, whom have willingly misinformed these residents, by their lack of transparency, nor willingness to negotiate in good faith."

You can read the tribe's entire statement here in response to what it says is misinformation being spread. WXPR still has not gotten a response to its request for an interview.

A lawyer who said she was hired by First American title insurance company to represent 35 of the homeowners involved spoke at the meeting saying that the title companies had offered nearly one million dollars to resolve this issue but were turned down by the tribe.

In a previously released statement, Tribal President John Johnson Sr. said, “Title companies could have settled the situation by paying a fraction of what is being asked for now.”

Congressman Tom Tiffany has reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to try and get the barricades lifted.

He gave a statement to WXPR in response to the situation that reads, “By choosing to barricade taxpayer-funded roads, the Tribe is creating a public safety concern for people who might need an ambulance to arrive as quickly as possible, firefighters who might need to put out a fire, propane trucks who may need to fill up tanks, and restaurant owners whose livelihoods are at stake due to the road closures. This is no way to treat your neighbors, and I have spoken directly with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Neighbors work together to find solutions; they do not hold each other hostage.”

WXPR also requested an interview with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to better understand their role in this situation.

We were given this statement in response to that request:

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs support Tribes in their inherent right to self-determination and supports their ability to resolve their conflicts internally, exercising and clarifying their governing documents. It also ensures that applicable laws and regulations are adhered to in the execution of federal programs. Accordingly, we seek to work closely with our tribal partners to safeguard the rights of both Tribes and individuals.”

The BIA went on to say it has no jurisdiction over the right of way and that staff are monitoring the situation and are prepared to provide assistance if requested.

The recently release Lac du Flambeau Tribe statement said this about the BIA's involvement: "Negotiations between attorneys for the insurance companies and the Tribes attorneys started in 2017. Those negotiations have gone back and forth for years. The Tribe also reached out to the First American Title Company, and Chicago Title, both representing property owners affected by the expired ROWs, as early as September 2022, to notify each of the Tribe’s to restart negotiations over new ROW agreements. The Tribe also provided both companies with an October 27th deadline to respond to their request, and received no communication from either party. Both companies were also provided with a list of possible actions that the Tribe could impose, including trespass citations, and access restrictions
to roads leading to homeowner’s property."

WXPR has reached to the BIA further clarify its involvement. There's been no response at this time.

Town Board Supervisor Bob Hanson recommended trying to settle the matter outside of court saying the process would take a long time.

At the emergency meeting, The Lac du Flambeau Town Board voted to reach out to the tribal government immediately following the meeting to ask them to take down the barriers for 60 days while the town board, tribal government, and title companies reach an agreement.

The town board posted on its website at 9:00 a.m. Friday saying that a correspondent had been sent to the tribe and they were waiting on a response.

The town board says it will post updates on its website. WXPR will continue to update this story as we learn more.

The tribe recommends people affected reach out to these contacts:

a. BIA – Jeremy Larson Realty Specialist Bureau of Indian Affairs – Great Lakes Agency 916 West Lakeshore Drive Ashland, WI 54806 715-685-2364 office 715-209-4375 cell jeremy.larson@bia.gov
b. BIA – Diane Baker Superintendent Great Lakes Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs 916 Lake Shore Drive W Ashland, Wisconsin 54806 612-816-9626 (Mobile) diane.baker@bia.gov
c. Chicago Title Insurance Company 888-934-3354
d. First American Title Company 800-854-3643
e. Legal Counsel for Insurance Companies – Nancy Appleby Nancy J. Appleby Appleby Law PLLC 1818 Potomac Greens Drive, Suite 100 Alexandria, Virginia 22314 703/837-0001 (office) 703/997-4868 (fax) nancy@applebylawpllc.com

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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