Red Cliff reclaims land from Bayfield County, both parties sign proclamation to protect water resources

Red Cliff, Bayfield County strengthen relationship
Red Cliff reclaims Tribal land, both parties sign proclamation to protect water resources

June 9, 2022 – The Red Cliff Tribal Council and the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting yesterday for the first time since December 2015. Red Cliff has reclaimed ownership of all Tribal land previously held by Bayfield County, and the two governments have signed a joint proclamation to collaboratively protect the area’s water.

“This is a landmark moment for Gaa-Miskwaabikaang to finally be back in full ownership of Tribal lands,” said Red Cliff Chairman Christopher Boyd. “The Tribe is grateful to be strengthening relationships with the County, and I believe this joint work to protect water resources shows the Tribe’s willingness to continue collaboration while keeping the best interests of our future generations at the forefront of our work.”

Land Reclamation
Established by treaty, Gaa-Miskwaabikaang (Red Cliff Reservation) now encompasses over 15,000 acres. However, in the years leading up to 2006, tribal aki (land) holdings within the boundary had dwindled to under 8,000 acres. With a growing population and limited aki base, reclamation of lands has been a high priority for Tribal Leaders for well over a decade. Since 2017, the Tribe has worked with Bayfield County to reclaim approximately 1,582 acres of County Forest land. With this series of land reclamation, combined with previous reclamation efforts, the Tribe has greatly increased its ability to expand residential, municipal, agricultural, and commercial space on the reservation.

“Reclaiming land has been a continuous effort and it is such a powerful feeling to be a part of obtaining this for the next generations,” said Red Cliff Vice Chairman Nathan Gordon. “Increased housing opportunities, traditional agriculture and treaty rights practices, and business development are all more possible now. We continue to work towards meeting the needs of the Tribal Membership.”

Red Cliff Attorney Dave Ujke expressed gratitude and relief for the reclamation of lands, but said the work does not stop there.

“I feared this day would never come before my retirement when the Tribe would solve the issue of land lost to the County, and I want to thank everyone here for working to make this happen,” said Ujke. “However, the Tribe still has a checkerboard style of land ownership and tax issues that need to be solved. The Tribe has been here and will continue to be here. The Tribe will continue to stand up and protect itself.”

Gi-Ganawemaanaan Nibi: We are Protecting the Water
The joint Proclamation with Bayfield County is an enormous step in protecting the area’s water resources. While the Tribe takes pride in its Environmental Department’s robust water resources protection efforts, joining with the County will undoubtedly strengthen the protection of nibi within the reservation, around the Bayfield peninsula, and across the region.

The joint proclamation identifies clean water as being essential to life, health, and the wellbeing of our families and ecosystems. Clean water is the foundation of a vibrant community, economy, and high qualify of life. Red Cliff and Bayfield County both retain the authority to exercise water stewardship responsibilities, and wetland ecosystems are vital to the growth and harvesting of traditional medicines. View the entire proclamation to Protecting Water HERE.

Continued Collaboration
The joint meeting also highlighted other combined efforts between the Tribe and the County, including a presentation on public health and the COVID-19 pandemic. Bayfield County’s Sara Wartman and Red Cliff’s Diane Erickson shared information behind the combined efforts of COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution. Partnership efforts have also increased regarding food distribution to help both county and tribal citizens.

The Red Cliff Tribe and Bayfield County expressed sincere gratitude for the unique relationship, and confirmed interest in future opportunities to build relationships that will benefit both County and Tribal citizens now and into the future. A motion was passed to have the Tribal Relations Committee set two dates when the Tribe and County can meet again in order to avoid another seven-year lapse in meetings.

The Tribe and County exchanged gifts as another sign of respect and gratitude. Chi-Miigwech to the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors for working with the Tribe to strengthen relationships and collaboration.

Learn more about the Tribe’s land reclamation efforts and its work towards protecting nibi online at

See the signed Joint Proclamation to protect nibi, and a map showing reclamation of lands since 2017.

JointMeetingChairsHandshake 6.8.22 - Copy
Bayfield County Chairman Dennis Pocernich and Red Cliff Chairman Christopher Boyd exchange gifts at the Joint Tribal Council - Bayfield County meeting on June 8, 2022.

Red Cliff Tribal Council and Bayfield County Board of Supervisors
The Red Cliff Tribal Council and the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors met on June 8, 2022 for the first time since December 2015. The meeting was an historic moment for building relationships between the Tribe and the County -- working together to benefit both County and Tribal Citizens.