Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation

Published on January 18, 2013 by Amy

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Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation
Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation

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

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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 of more. Many lakes dot the plateau. Evidence that not to long ago the area was covered by a large lake.

Land status

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.

Source: wikipedia

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