This week, Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany submitted a request to the House Appropriations Committee to prevent the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from ever holding Wisconsinites hostage again. The appropriations request will pull any Indian tribe’s Tribal Transportation Program funds if it closes public access to roads registered in the program.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any Indian Tribe that closes or otherwise restricts public access to any roadway that was listed on the Indian Reservation Roads / Tribal Transportation Facility Inventory as of January 1, 2022, shall be ineligible for Tribal Transportation Program funds,” reads the letter.
2023.03.24 Interior Approps LDF by The Federalist on Scribd
From late January to mid-March, some 65 non-tribal Wisconsin families were held hostage by the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The tribe had erected illegal barricades on the four roads, cutting off vehicle access and effectively preventing residents from entering and leaving their homes.
The barricades were erected in response to a road dispute between two title companies and the town of Lac Du Flambeau. The innocent, barricaded residents were essentially being held for ransom while the tribes demanded $20 million to reopen the roads for only 15 years.
After receiving negative press attention from The Federalist and Fox News, the tribe agreed to give the town a 30-day permit for the roads to temporarily open while negotiations ensue, with the possibility of two more available 30-permits if the tribe wishes to grant them. The tribe is charging the town $20,000 per permit.
“The chains are down, but the barricades are still on the side of the road,” said resident Marsha Panhil. Indeed, according to multiple residents interviewed by The Federalist, the situation is far from resolved, and the tribe may still put the barricades back up if they are not offered the desired amount of compensation. And while The Federalist isn’t privy to the negotiations, residents have informed us that the tribe has not come down from their multimillion-dollar demand.
Rep. Tiffany has maintained from the start that the tribe’s barricades were a form of extortion and illegal under federal law because the roads are registered under the Tribal Transportation Program and receive federal funding. Tiffany told The Federalist that his appropriations request will serve to “reaffirm” that fact.
So far, Tiffany is the only elected leader who is adequately addressing the illegal and dangerous barricades. “I think Tom Tiffany is the only politician that’s really working for us right now,” said formerly barricaded resident Mike Hornbostel.
The barricades were illegal, dangerous (especially for elderly residents), and a source of increasingly volatile racial disharmony within the community. Yet Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers, President Joe Biden, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have all kowtowed to the tribe at the expense of the captive residents. Both Biden and Evers could have threatened to restrict funding from the tribe during the months-long hostage crisis, but they refused to.
Evers and Biden could still pull funding from the tribe if it re-erects or threaten to re-erect the illegal barricades, but that’s unlikely, given that both men heavily rely on identity politics for political power. In fact, when Evers visited Lac Du Flambeau during the crisis, residents told The Federalist that he failed to meet with them, only spoke with tribal members, and affirmed the tribe’s supposed “right” to illegally hold Wisconsinites hostage.
The BIA has been equally ineffective. According to Tiffany, the agency, in conjunction with the tribe, has refused to provide Tiffany’s office with key right-of-way appraisals relevant to the road dispute. “The appraisals were paid for by public dollars, and therefore I think they should be in the public domain,” Tiffany told The Federalist. Without the appraisals, no serious negotiation about the value of the roads can take place.
Tiffany told The Federalist that the tribe’s behavior, which includes erecting the barricades on a day that was “25 below zero degrees,” is thanks to Andrew Adams, the tribe’s Minneapolis-based legal council. “He does not live in the community. He doesn’t care whether the neighbors get along or not because it doesn’t affect him,” said Tiffany. “He just catches his paycheck from the tribe.”
The tribe’s astronomical, multimillion-dollar demand is in addition to the $218 million in federal funds that it received over the past 10 years. Yet despite all the funding, poverty and violence plague the small reservation community. “There’s 1500 people on the reservation and they have two gangs fighting over drugs,” said Hornbostel. “Meanwhile, we’re pumping in like a minimum of $22 million a year into [the tribe]… Why aren’t they all driving Mercedes and living in mansions?”
Tribal member Melissa Christensen told The Federalist that members were not even told what Tribal President John Johnson and the rest of the tribal council plan on doing with the $20 million they are demanding, and she requested The Federalist ask Johnson “what he’s gonna do with the money.” The Federalist reached out to Johnson and asked that very question but did not hear back.
“When you drive through a reservation, you see shacks and people living in shacks,” Hornbostel continued. “I don’t understand how that happens when there’s so much money being pumped into the system. Why isn’t it being filtered down to the citizens of the reservation? It’s like anything else the federal government does. The more money they hand out, the more screwed up everything is.”