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Failed negotiations over road access lead to barriers blocking access to private homes within the Lac du Flambeau Reservation

A picture of the letter sent to homeowners on four roads with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Reservation.
A picture of the letter sent to homeowners on four roads with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Reservation.

Failed negotiations over road access have led to the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa putting cement barriers down on four roads.

Those barriers have blocked access to private homes within the tribe’s reservation.

The issue goes back nearly 10 years ago when right-of-way easements on four roads on reservation land expired.

On January 19th, Dave Miess was one of dozens of homeowners in the Lac du Flambeau area to receive a letter from the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Government.

He lives off East Ross Allen Lake Lane, one of four roads that’s been under negotiations for ten years over right-of-way access. The other roads are Annie Sunn Lane, Center Sugarbush Lane, and Elsie Lake Lane.

The letter warned landowners that the tribe would put some kind of sign or barrier on the roads to keep out trespassers.

Miess says the barriers on his road went up around 10:30 Tuesday morning.

“Basically, these barricades, there are two large concrete pieces that are probably three feet high that they had to use a Cat to put down. They’re on either end and then they put a chain across it. Then there’s a barrier in front of that,” said Miess.

When Miess bought the house nearly three years ago, he had no idea that there was even an issue surrounding access to the property.

It was never disclosed in the buying process.

“The original owners came to us a couple of months later with a folder about an inch thick and said, ‘I think we should probably tell you about this.’ I think they felt guilty,” said Miess.

There have been negotiations between the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, the Town of Lac du Flambeau, First American Title Company, Chicago Title Insurance Company, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to clarify ownership, control, and maintenance of the roads that are reservation land.

In a statement, Lac du Flambeau Tribal President John Johnson Sr. said, “The Town of Lac du Flambeau and the title companies have not always acted in good faith to resolve this issue. The Tribe is fed up with the title companies’ games. Title companies could have settled the situation by paying a fraction of what is being asked for now. Individual property owners are essentially being held hostage by title companies unwilling to negotiate in good faith.”

You can read Johnson’s full statement here.

At an emergency town meeting on the issue Monday afternoon, WAOW reported residents putting the blame on different parties: the tribe, the title companies, or the Town government which they felt had not reacted with enough urgency.

In response to the blame directed at them, Johnson said, “It seems the title companies are attempting to put all the blame on the Tribe, which owns the access roads, to keep attention off the fact that the title companies illegally issued faulty title policy commitments to individual property owners.”

Miess doesn’t think there’s one party to blame.

“It seems like there’s a perfect storm of a lot of large entities or entities involved that have kind of created this,” said Miess. “I am incredibly pro-indigenous people. I really respect their tribe and the culture and their land. At the same time, I also know that on our particular road what’s in question on East Allen Lake Road is 153 feet. I can’t believe I’m being blocked off for 153 feet.”

In total, all four roads amount to roughly 2,600 feet of tribal land.

Miess jokes that he’s one of the lucky ones.

Ahead of the barriers being put down, he parked his car across the lake on a friend’s property that is accessible by public road.

He can get between his car and house by cross-country skiing across the lake.

“We’re in a slightly better position if you don’t mind skiing across a lake in 15 below zero weather to get to your car. You can maybe get some groceries and bring them back,” he said.

Miess is most concerned about access in case of emergencies.

He was told by Tribal police when the barriers were going up that first responders would have copies of the keys for the barrier chains so they could get through.

But Miess says in most medical emergency situations he or his neighbors would likely get help faster driving themselves to the hospital.

“Out in the country, ambulances can take time. A lot of people aren’t going to call 911. We’re going to head for Minocqua on our own. That’s not doable right now,” said Miess.

Miess doesn’t know that the groups will come to an agreement anytime soon, but he’s hopeful the tribe will remove the barriers soon if meaningful negotiations resume.

The tribe has not given any kind of timeline.

A message on the Town of Lac du Flambeau website posted around 2:00 Tuesday afternoon reads discussions continue and that a special town board meeting will be held Thursday at 1:00 p.m.

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