This case study examines the land tenure histories of the Grand Portage and Leech Lake Bands of Ojibwe to determine how historical events inform their contemporary land acquisition strategies. The standardized federal Indian policy time periods frames this effort to track the amount of reservation land held in Ojibwe trust ownership over time while analyzing the local impact of those policies upon land tenure and acquisition. The Grand Portage and Leech Lake Bands are members of the confederated Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and this Band-level unit of analysis illuminates variations in land tenure patterns and acquisition strategies experienced within a common tribal identity. The Grand Portage Band has been remarkably successful and over 80% of that territory is under Ojibwe trust ownership, while only 5% of the Leech Lake Reservation is in Ojibwe trust ownership.
The Grand Portage Band has utilized conventional and creative strategies for land acquisition. For example, the Band secured an expansion of their reservation boundary in 1982, and later acquired the Grand Portage State Park. The Leech Lake Band has experienced a harsher land tenure history as their reservation lands have been, and remain, a much more contested territory. The Chippewa National Forest was superimposed upon that reservation territory, which has effectively created a federal monopoly on land ownership and which serves as a major obstacle to effective land acquisition by the Leech Lake Band today. Other obstacles include bureaucratic inertia and state and local opposition.
The emergent tribal land acquisition strategies are land purchases, as well as the purchase of fractionated trust ownership interests, negotiations with local and state governments for land exchanges, the transfer of federal "surplus lands," and pursuit of special legislation or executive orders. Furthermore, Indian land tenure and acquisition remains an important aspect of the contemporary federal trust responsibility, although weakened in practice. The federal trust responsibility must be revitalized in order to become an effective method for tribal land acquisition. The Indian land tenure reality today is that most tribes endure insufficient and inadequate tribal territories as a result of federal Indian policies, which has prompted many to prioritize land acquisition.