Northern Wisconsin landowners have filed a lawsuit against the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians after the tribe set up barricades to block roads it claims were illegally built on tribal land.
The suit, filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Madison, seeks to remove the roadblocks, which have prevented 21 homeowners and businesses from leaving their residences except for medical appointments.
The dispute over the roads has been ongoing for a decade, with title companies representing the property owners seeking permanent right-of-way agreements, while the tribe has offered only 25-year leases.
After negotiations failed, the tribe put up four roadblocks on January 31, prompting the legal action.
Tribal leaders have demanded that the property owners and title companies pay $20 million to remove the barricades and secure a 25-year right-of-way agreement.
However, the landowners have filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare the roads public or declare that they have the right to cross tribal land by necessity.
The tribe has argued that it cannot give up any more land, having already given up millions of acres over generations. “This is all we have left,” the tribe said in a statement on February 9.
Some residents of the estimated 65 homes without road access have expressed feeling “held hostage,” while others have resorted to crossing a frozen lake on snowmobiles to circumvent the roadblocks.
The Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
However, the tribe has stated that residents without road access still have access to emergency medical services, propane, mail delivery, and garbage removal, and that tribal police have been checking in on residents to ensure their safety.
The lawsuit raises important questions about property rights and tribal sovereignty, and the court’s decision could have significant implications for both the landowners and the tribe.