The Native American tribe barricading dozens of Wisconsin families in their homes over a legal dispute regarding road infrastructure has accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
In late January, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians — a tribe with 3,415 members and 86,600 acres of reservation property in northern Wisconsin — initiated a blockade of several roads that cut through its property, but which represent the only exit for nearby residents. The drastic action came after the tribe's negotiations with local property owners on new right-of-way agreements for the roads deteriorated.
"As we have said before, this entire situation could have been avoided if the Town and the Title Insurance Companies would have negotiated in good faith," the tribe's President John Johnson said in a statement Friday. "The Tribe feels for the property owners impacted by the actions of the Town and the Title Insurance Companies."
"In fact, we share in their frustration in dealing with government and lawyers, as well as the associated costs that add up quickly over a short period of time — much less over the 10 years that we’ve been trying to get this resolved with the Town and Title Insurance Companies."
WISCONSIN RESIDENTS REMAIN TRAPPED IN HOMES AS NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE MAINTAINS BLOCKADE OVER LEGAL DISPUTE
The dispute centers on the terms of new right-of-way agreements with the tribe requesting $20 million for a 25-year easement and title companies representing locals pushing for a permanent easement. The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians doubled its offer recently, noting that the current easement expired a decade ago.
But while the tribe owns the territory that the four blocked roadways cut through, it has received hundreds of millions of dollars from various taxpayer-funded federal programs over the last decade alone.
According to federal data reviewed by Fox News Digital, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has received approximately $272 million in federal funding since 2013. The Department of Health and Human Services has granted $125.8 million while the Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) granted another $36.8 million to the tribe.
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In addition, the tribe has received $4.8 million between 2018 and 2022 from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Tribal Transportation Program which was designed to "provide safe and adequate transportation and public road access to and within Indian reservations." The four roads being barricaded are each listed under the program, meaning they have been funded by taxpayers.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., who represents Lac Du Flambeau's congressional district, has repeatedly called on the Biden administration to take action to end the blockade, arguing it has forced locals to cross a frozen lake for basic necessities, report to work or attend school. Some residents have expressed concern that the lake may soon thaw and become unreliable to travel across.
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"The longer the Biden administration’s DOT, DOI, and BIA stonewall on the requested information; the more dangerous it becomes for the health and safety of residents — many of whom must walk across a frozen lake just to drop their kids off at school, go to the grocery store, or get to their jobs," Tiffany told Fox News Digital.
"The Biden administration must provide the appraisals and information I requested that would help get to the bottom of this dispute and allow both sides to come to the table in a fair and honest negotiation," he continued. "By not responding and by allowing the Tribal Council to continue to barricade taxpayer-funded roads, the Biden administration is not acting in good faith and is choosing to allow this situation to continue to escalate."
Tiffany has both penned letters to the tribe's leadership and various federal agencies, demanding a speedy resolution. The congressman, though, hasn't received a response to a Feb. 9 letter he sent to the BIA requesting appraisal information for the four roads.
However, the BIA signaled that it would prioritize tribal sovereignty and work with the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians to reach a peaceful resolution.
"The federal government has an obligation to uphold Tribal sovereignty, which includes ensuring that Tribes have the ability to consent to the use of its lands," BIA spokesperson Joshua Barnett told Fox News Digital. "We have been in communication with the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, as well as state and other officials, and will continue to support efforts to reach a positive outcome."
"It is important that people seeking access to the Tribe’s lands communicate directly with the Tribe," he added. "The Bureau of Indian Affairs will follow all applicable laws and regulations when reviewing any agreements for use of Tribal lands."
And the state government has taken a similar approach. After a Feb. 6 meeting with tribal leaders, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he encouraged "everyone in the area to engage amicably and peacefully with each other."
Residents, though, have likened the situation to an extortion scheme.
"They’ve got me barricaded in and I can’t get out," David Kievet, a local resident, recently told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
During an emergency town hall meeting in January, a 90-year-old property owner said it was "a hostage situation," according to local outlet WAOW-TV.