Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Tribal seal

Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation (Ojibwe language: Mikinaakwajiwing) is an Indian Reservation located primarily in northern North Dakota, United States. It is the land base for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (part of the large family of Ojibwe peoples).


Map of the Turtle Mountain reservation and trust lands.

The Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation was established by Presidential Executive Order on December 21, 1882. The main reservation lies in the northern part of Rolette County, North Dakota and has a land area of 67.583 square miles (175.04 km2) and a 2000 census population of 5,815 persons. It also has extensive off-reservation trust lands, which make the reservation's lands the most widely dispersed of all reservations in the nation.

These lands are spread across 22 counties in three states: North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota. Including these lands, the reservation's land area is a total of 233.036 square miles (603.56 km2). Its total resident population at the 2000 census was 8,331.

The largest portion of off-reservation trust land is located in Rolette County, with significant parcels in Phillips, Blaine, Sheridan and Roosevelt counties in Montana; and in Williams County, North Dakota. Sixteen other counties have lesser amounts of trust land.

The Reservation is situated in the southeastern part of the Turtle Mountain Plateau. The Turtle Mountain Plateau covers a large area in extreme northern North Dakota and extreme southern Manitoba. In the United States, the plateau is not as extensively covered by a forest as in the Canadian part of the plateau. The forest which covers the plateau, is clear evidence that the boreal forest extended much further westward. The Turtle Mountains are not really mountains but just tiny hills. The plateau is rightfully an extension of the plains or prairie. It is only slightly higher in elevation. About 500 feet or more. Many lakes dot the plateau. Evidence that not too long ago the area was covered by a large lake.

Land status[edit]

The main part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation is located in Rolette County, North Dakota. It is 6 miles by 12 miles. It covers 72 square miles (46,000 acres; 19,000 ha). Another 26,175 acres (10,593 ha) is located in Roulette County, North Dakota, around the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Total acres in Rolette County are 72,255 acres (29,241 ha). Another 6,698 acres (2,711 ha) is managed by the Trenton Agency. Much of the Trenton land is in Montana. The remaining land, totaling 67,852 acres (27,459 ha), is located in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Nearly all is located in Montana. The Turtle Mountain Reservation is closed. It is only one of a few Native American Reservations that has not been opened up to white settlement. The total area of the Turtle Mountain Reservation is 146,805 acres (229.383 sq mi; 59,410 ha).


The Anishinaabe people were likely living in what is now the Turtle Mountain Plateau region in the late 17th century. Much of the land surrounding the Turtle Mountain Plateau was probably covered by a forest during those times. Wild rice grew in many of the waterways and became a product gathered by the Anishinaabe people. Chippewa soldiers had already brought many of the northern Dakota people (a branch of the Sioux) under their control by 1700. As the 18th century progressed, they brought more of the Dakota peoples under their control.

In the early 19th century (around 1810-1820), Chippewa and Metis warriors battled with white fur trade companies over sensitive issues. Included was trespassing on Indian land and disagreements over the lucrative pemmican. Pemmican was vital to the Chippewa and to the white fur trade companies. The Pemmican War was fought over the lucrative pemmican. The Battle of Seven Oaks was the major battle of the war.

Historians claim the Chippewa still controlled nearly 10 million acres in 1892. That is nearly 15,000 sq. mi. In the late 1880s, the United States sent representatives to chief Little Shell III and his councilors, to negotiate a deal for the acreage still owned by them. Chief Little Shell III was living in Montana and was not pleased about the issue. The negotiations continued on for several years and finally ended in 1891, when the United States selected 32 Chippewa leaders to negotiate and sign the McCumber Agreement. That occurred in 1892.

In 1882, the Turtle Mountain Reservation was established; it was originally much larger than today. In 1884, the United States reduced the size of the Turtle Mountain Reservation to two townships or 46,080 acres. The Chippewa ceded much of their land before the reservation was established.

Chief Little Shell III ceded the land in exchange for a large Reservation that bordered the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. During the negotiations over the 10 million acres in the early 1890s, the Chippewa leader and the US could not come to agreement. The United States forced chief Little Shell III and several hundred of his supporters off the reservation rolls, making them landless.

Chief Little Shell III relocated from the huge Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, to the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.

Sitting Bull's Possible Grave[edit]

Some Dakota Indians from Manitoba[who?] claim that chief Sitting Bull is buried in the Turtle Mountains. They claim on the Canadian side. According to Gordon Wasteste who was 84 when interviewed in 2007, his family included chiefs who were rulers of the Turtle Mountains. He also claimed one of his ancestors actually witnessed the assassination of Sitting Bull, in December 1890.

After the 1862 Minnesota Indian War, the United States sent 1,000s of their soldiers into central North Dakota, to pursue and battle the Indians who fled from near the White Earth Reservation region. A series of battles were fought in which over 1,000 Indians were killed. The first one was the Battle of Big Mound, while the last was the Battle of the Badlands. The battles are considered to have been a part of the 1862 Minnesota Indian War. Sitting Bull probably participated in all of the battles.

According to Gordon Wasteste, his ancestors had to approve of any burials within the Turtle Mountains, even for such an iconic figure as chief Sitting Bull. It does not add up! Supposedly some warriors secretly unburied Sitting Bull at his second resting place and placed his remains on a travois and commenced the journey to the Turtle Mountains. Wasteste said Sitting Bull was relocated to be buried in the Turtle Mountains so white grave robbers could not steal his remains. This evidence reeks of a cover-up. So chief Sitting Bull is buried in the Chippewa's Turtle Mountains?

Most likely Sitting Bull was born near the Turtle Mountains and Anishinaabe. Ogima Sitting Bull told General Terry that he was born and raised among the Red River Half-Breeds, which strongly suggests he was in fact Anishinaabe. The Chippewa's of Turtle Mountain will agree, unless, they will side with the whites who Sitting Bull called "Liars." Ogima Sitting Bull opened up his speech to Terry, by saying "For 64 years you have kept us and treated us bad." He may have been recalling a past treaty which ended a conflict around 1813. He may have been recalling the War of 1812 and a treaty the whites refused to honor.

Ogima Sitting Bull was not the only Indian leader to speak to the whites on October 17, 1877. Others also spoke to the white military leaders. Each one specifically told the whites "you have treated us bad for the past 64 years." That be since 1813 or during the War of 1812. Each one also told the whites that they had been driven out of their original country and that the people they fled to, treated them very well. One of the Indian leaders told the whites that there were 7 different tribes of us and you whites promised to take care of us when we were over there. All were speaking of a location to the east.

The 7 tribes spoken of could be the Seven Nations of Canada who lived along the St. Lawrence River, to the northern shores of Lake Huron. Today, the Iroquois have largely drawn a blank about the Wabanaki Confederacy which is the Seven Nations of Canada. Of course, the eastern Anishinabe people followed the Seven Fires Prophecy and migrated to the west. In the Montana region they are probably the non recognized Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa's who originally lived in southeastern Michigan and southern Ontario, west of Lake Huron.

They likely commenced the westward migration near the Montreal region which is as far north as Billings, Montana, around the War of 1812 time period. On the way other Ojibwa's from further south joined them. The whites were already established in the north of Ohio at the time, and the logical choice for the Ojibwa's was to migrate to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where they joined with other Ojibwa's and migrated across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then to Wisconsin. From there, they migrated westward to Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, then to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Not all Ojibwa's left, however.

They also told the whites that they like these people and intend to live with them. Of course, these people being the natives of northern Montana and Alberta and Saskatchewan. The whites had yet to colonize those locations in 1877. These people give us plenty to eat was another response by yet another Indian leader. All Indian leaders called the whites liars on October 17, 1877 and went so far as to tell the whites that is why they were holding negotiations with them or to tell lies to them.

This treaty negotiation was held at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan on October 17, 1877. Ogima Sitting Bull was still independent and living in northern Montana and Alberta and Saskatchewan, at the time. Fort Walsh was built in 1875 and is located in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, about 5 miles from Alberta, and about 70 miles to the north of present day Havre, Montana, and 85 miles directly north of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.

Selkirk Concession[edit]

Chief Sitting Bull was hinting at something now hidden from the present, when he told General Terry that "...For 64 years you have kept us and treated us bad." Sitting Bull was probably 46 at the time. Around 1811, the Selkirk Concession was supposedly issued by the Hudson's Bay Company to Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. The land was not white but Anishinaabe. It covered a large area of land in Canada and the northern United States including parts of eastern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, northern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota. The Turtle Mountains were within the land area of the Selkirk Concession. It is also known as the Red River Colony and the District of Assiniboia. However, Sitting Bull may have not been recalling an unknown event 64 years before 1877, but a treaty the Anishinaabe Nation signed with the whites which set aside a huge Reservation around 1870. Chief Sitting Bull was obviously trying to tell Native Americans something. It may have dealt with a Reservation the whites have totally erased from history. In fact, it may be related to the infamous "10 cent an acre treaty".

Trenton Indian Service Area[edit]

An agency of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, the Trenton Indian Service Area was established back in the 1970s, to manage the Chippewa land allotments in northeastern Montana and northwestern North Dakota. Only one community is affiliated with the Trenton Indian Service Area and that is Trenton, North Dakota. Near 500 people live in Trenton, which is an unincorporated community. Trenton is only a few miles from Montana. The Trenton Indian Service Area does not manage all the Turtle Mountain Chippewa land allotments. Fort Peck Agency manages some, as does the Fort Belknap Agency, Northern Cheyenne Agency and the Cheyenne River Agency of South Dakota.

Grahams Island[edit]

It is a part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Grahams Island may be some 60 miles from the Turtle Mountain Reservation, but much of the island was allotted to some Turtle Mountain Chippewas. The island is only a couple of blocks from the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. Much of the island is covered by a forest. The island was the location of Chief Little Shell I village in the very early 1800s. Other Turtle Mountain land allotments are located in Liberty County, Montana, which is west of the Rocky Boy Reservation and only 47 miles from the Blackfeet Reservation.


Several Chippewa settlements are located on and around the small Reservation. East Dunseith is located on the plateau. It is surrounded by a forest and many lakes. Shell Valley is located in the extreme southwestern part of the reservation. In fact, Shell Valley may be off reservation, located on off Reservation trust land, as is East Dunseith. Shell Valley is not on the plateau. Belcourt is situated on the southeastern edge of the plateau. The forest is to the east, north and west of the CDP. Many lakes are also located around Belcourt.

Dunseith is not on the reservation but is also predominantly Indian. Even more so than St. John. Just east of Belcourt is an area which had over 100 housing units in 1997. Using Google Earth, the same area appears to have had the housing units torn down. However, about a mile east of the same area, another set of housing units has recently been built. The area has over 70 housing units. The name of the settlement may go by Green Acres Housing or simply Green Acres. The new area (Green Acres Housing) with the 70 to 75 new housing units, is likely a new settlement. The population of North Green Acres may be between 225 and 300.

Directly south of the area which is likely a new settlement (North Green Acres), is another area where a large number of housing units are located. It is over a half a mile south of North Green Acres and could be a part of the Green Acres Housing, or is in fact the Green Acres Housing. The area has around 33 housing units. It is obviously a settlement. The population of South Green Acres may be between 100 and 140.

East Dunseith Housing which must not be confused with East Dunseith, may have up to 80 housing units. East Dunseith Housing is just under a mile east of Dunseith. The population of East Dunseith may be between 240 and 320.


Turtle Mountain Reservation economic conditions are largely centered on government. The government of the Turtle Mountain Reservation employ 854 people. The government jobs include federal, state, local agencies and the schools on the Reservation. The government of the Turtle Mountain Reservation also owns the Turtle Mountain Manufacturing Company which has an employment force of 186. Another tribally owned company is Uniband. Uniband employs 350 people in the Belcourt region. Other large employers on the Turtle Mountain Reservation include Indian Health Service which employs 215 people, and the Turtle Mountain Community College which employs 60 people. The casino owned by the Turtle Mountain Reservation government, has a work force of 300 people.

Day school in 1945

In the private sector, it is estimated that there are at least 135 Indian owned businesses on the Turtle Mountain Reservation and around the Reservation, but problems abound. According to the 2000 census, 8,331 live on the Turtle Mountain Reservation but the unemployment rate was near 50%. The estimated 2000 employment force was 5,222. Of that total, 2,748 were employed and 2,474 were unemployed. The per capita annual income is near $12,000. The poverty rate is at 38%.


Climate conditions on the Turtle Mountain Reservation are extreme. Winters are long and cold. Average winter lows at Belcourt during December's, January's and February's are -4, -11 and -6. Average high temperatures for the same months are 16, 11 and 17. Summers are short and warm. Average high temperatures for June, July and August at Belcourt are 72, 78 and 76. Average summer low temperatures are a bit on the chilly side at Belcourt. The average low temperatures for June, July and August are 47, 52, 48. Average precipitation at Belcourt is near 18 inches. The region might be included as being in tornado ally.

Notable residents[edit]

  • Chief Little Shell III

His father was chief Little Shell II. His father was chief Little Shell I. Little Shell I was native to the region around Devil's Lake, North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Little Shell II was native to the Devil's Lake region and probably on up to the Turtle Mountain Plateau and extreme southern Manitoba. Chief Little Shell III was also native to the same region and enjoyed that entire region. He was very fond of the Turtle Mountain Plateau region. He eventually moved to where the present day Montana town of Plentywood is located. He owned land there. Chief Little Shell III is famous for refusing to sign the infamous 10 cent an acre treaty. The United States forced him off Reservation rolls. He left his Montana home and moved to the Turtle Mountain Reservation. He died and was buried there in 1901.

  • Charles Cuthbert Bayris Grant

He was a councilor to both chief Little Shell II and chief Little Shell III. Bayris worked with chief Little Shell II during the Old Crossing Treaty. In fact, his brother Charles Grant was a signatory to the infamous 1863 Old Crossing Treaty. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Cuthbert Bayris Grant worked with chief Little Shell III and his other councilors, during the negotiations over the 10 cent an acre treaty. He was born in 1835. He was a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°51′00″N 99°47′01″W / 48.85000°N 99.78361°W / 48.85000; -99.78361