The Red Cliff Tribal Council is the elected governing body of its citizens - Red Cliff tribal members. As a federally-recognized tribe, Red, Cliff has met the standards set forth by the United States in establishing and maintaining government-to-government relations. These standards came under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard). The main criteria for a tribe to be recognized is that they adopt a representative form of government under a constitution and by-laws. In doing so, Red Cliff, like most other U.S. tribes, became eligible for various U.S. programs and services.

Red Cliff passed its original constitution and by-laws on June 15, 1935. It was recommended for approval on May 26,1936 by J.C. Cavill, BIA Agency Superintendent and was approved on June 1,1936 by John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior. This document was amended by constitutional referendum in 1990. This amendment changed numerous articles including Articles I -Territory and Jurisdiction; II - Membership; III - Governing Body; IV - Nominations and Elections; V - Vacancies and Removal from Office; VI - Powers. It also added Article VII - Gender Neutrality: "Throughout this document, words which import on gender shall be applied to any gender." Before Tribal Government

The Red Cliff Tribal Government is the political successor to more traditional forms of governance. These forms including hereditary and clan leadership was radically changed during and following the treaty era; more research to ascertain the actual type of governance is continuing. Before there was a Red Cliff Reservation there was a vibrant village life on Madeline Island. For many generations this island was recognized as the headquarters of the political group known as the Lake Superior Chippewa. The LaPointe Band, lead by Chief Buffalo, was part of the larger group; others resided inland which we today know as the other Chippewa reservations. The Lake Superior Band, consisting of villages in three states, was just one of many Bands which make up our nation - The Anishinabeg. Red Cliff emerges out of series of treaties between the United States and the Lake Superior Chippewa. The most relevant treaties include the 1835 Treaty at Prairie du Chien, the 1837 Treaty at St. Peters, and the 1842 Miners Treaty and 1854 LaPointe Treaty on Madeline Island. The latter treaty established the current reservations.

This 1854 LaPointe Treaty was a negotiated agreement by Chief Buffalo after the U.S. had previously threaten to remove the Lake Superior villages to Sandy Lake, Minnesota. When it was clear that there was widespread resistance to the Presidential Removal Order which was likely to end in open warfare, Buffalo travel to Washington and got the order rescinded; Wisconsin citizens had also signed petitions opposing the removal of the Chippewa.

Red Cliff however is unique in that it was not created specifically from the 1854 Treaty. Buffalo, then Living on Madeline Island, was award land at Red Cliff for his role in the treaty negotiations (the Buffalo Subdivision). This award of four sections was the beginning of what became the Red Cliff Reservation. Except for Buffalo and his family, all other LaPointe Band members were slated to go to the Bad River Reservation at Odanah. However, many resisted that and settled on the Buffalo Estate; there is historic evidence that many people had previously had camps at Red Cliff.

When is became clear that the Buffalo Estate would not support the population and they refused to go to Bad River, Red Cliff becomes attached to the 1854 Treaty. The boundaries of the Buffalo Estate are expanded to accommodate those now on the mainland at Red Cliff. In 1863, the United States Senate amended the provisions of the treaty and set aside approximately 14,000 acres for the Red Cliff Reservation. Following surveys about 200 allotments were issued for these lands.

The final allotment role was published in 1896, listing all those who eventually became members of the new Red Cliff Chippewa Reservation. In subsequent years, in order to be eligible for Red Cliff membership, you had to show direct lineage to this allotment role or be listed on the 1934 census. Unlike some reservations requiring 1/4 or more blood quantum for membership, lineage was the criteria. From Sovereignty to IRA (Domestic Dependent Nations)

Red Cliff, like other Lake Superior Chippewa, inherited a unique political legacy -legal scholars say it precedes even the United States. The limited sovereignty recognized today emerges out of the mist of history long before European contact. This sovereignty comes from being a distinct identifiable people; the United Nations says we have sovereign rights if we meet the criteria of territory, language and culture. When the warring colonists ended their battles, the victors did acknowledge that actual land title remained in many cases with native people. Although most of this native land was eventually lost (100 million acres between 1870's and 1920's alone), much of the initial loss came from treaties. Many of them were cession treaties, which sold to the United States large portions of the traditional homelands. However, though the lands were lost, these documents did and do recognize native sovereignty. Regarding the treaties, they document what was given by the native people to the United States; that which remains is that which we always had and have not lost or sold.

So Red Cliff, as part of the Lake Superior Chippewa, has residual sovereignty. Though much of it has eroded over the years, much still remains; and it carries legal weight. The term most often used to explain this residual sovereignty comes from a Supreme Court case in the 1830's involving the Cherokee. Then Chief Justice John Marshall, in an attempt to withstand even more aggressive policies, said that native people were "domestic dependent nations." This meant that while our external sovereignty was extinguished by the overwhelming control of the United States, our internal sovereignty remained intact. While we can't engage in international relations, we can control issues within the boundaries of our reservations as well as protect rights reserved in treaties and under other courts decisions and laws. Citizenship

Red Cliff, like other Chippewa and most other native groups, accepted U.S. citizenship when Congress unilaterally passed the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. The most popular reason given is that native people were being rewarded for involvement in World War I. However not all native people accepted this citizenship. Noted native scholar and traditional Iroquois leader Oren Lyons argues that they rejected citizenship because it further eroded remaining sovereignty. He said that by accepting citizenship it would also diminish native claims and the recovery of stolen lands. The Citizenship Act says that in accepting U.S. citizenship native people may also retain tribal citizenship, a further acknowledgment of internal sovereignty. Once the act passed Wisconsin natives automatically became state citizens under the state constitution. Yet, discrimination and threats to our remaining rights continued. It wasn't until 1954 that it became legal for Indian people to enter a bar and be serve liquor. Public Law 83-280 - To Retrocede or Not, that is the Question

The 83rd Congress passed Public Law 280 as one of the ways they were pushing the termination of Indian people and lands. The tactics used included assimilation, reduced federal assistance, and in some cases actual legal termination of tribal status; the Menominee was one such tribe terminated though they regained status under President Nixon. PL 280 gave the state jurisdiction over Indian reservations which until they was viewed as federal jurisdiction; proponents argued it would reduce crime. Five states including Wisconsin were mandated to assume criminal jurisdiction of Indian Reservations. Other states were given the option to assume jurisdiction.

Related State Laws

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