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Demographics - Land Base & Topography and Climate

Land Base & Topography and Climate |
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Land Base

The Chippewas reside on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The Turtle Mountains are near the geographic center of North America. Located southeast of the International Peace Gardens, the northern boundary of the reservation runs perpendicular to the Canadian Border, along the 49th parallel. The land base of the Reservation is entirely within Rolette County, measuring 12 miles (from west to east) by 6 miles (from north to south).

The Turtle Mountain Reservation boundaries, as agreed upon in the McCumber Agreement, or Ten Cent Treaty, consist of two townships. When allotments were issued by the federal government to individual tribal members, the land approved by Congress was insufficient to meet the allotment needs of the Turtle Mountain Band. As a result, Congress authorized the members of the Turtle Mountain Band to be issued allotments at Grahams Island, Trenton, North Dakota and at other locations in the Dakotas. Today, the land holdings of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and individual tribal members is 72,255 acres of land on and immediately adjacent to the reservation in Rolette County. The Tribe and its members hold 6,698 acres in trust at Trenton and there are individual allotments at other locations throughout North Dakota and other states. A large portion of the land base is in trust status consisting of tribal trust lands and individual trust lands (public domain allotments). The rest is land which is in unrestricted fee status and is mostly owned by individual tribal members. Most of the individual land allotments are fractionated because of heirship (e.g., many tribal members die without providing a will, perhaps because of the traditional belief that lands should be held in common). Another possibility is that the land has become so divided, any attempt to provide a will would be futile. This division of land makes economic development very difficult.

Alloted Land
104,005 acres
Tribal Land
35,579 acres
523 acres
Total Acreage
140,107 acres
Trenton Area Tribal and Trust Land
6,698 acres

Topography and Climate

One million years ago during the Cenozoic Era, North Dakota was covered by glaciers. These glaciers shaped the topography of the Turtle Mountains. The receding glaciers created an elevated terrain of rolling “turtle back” hills and scooped-out lakes, resulting in an area of scenic beauty unequaled in the state or region. The Turtle Mountain Reservation is in the Manitoba Escarpment. The hills of the Turtle Mountains range from 200 to 600 feet above the surrounding plains and from 1700 feet to 2300 feet above sea level. The last ice age sculpted the northern half of the Turtle Mountains with hills of sand and gravel. Trapped under these glacier deposits of sand and gravel are underground seas called aquifers. These bodies of water under the earth’s surface were developed during this era. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas has a legend about the glacier. See the “Legend of How the Chippewa Got the Four Seasons: Nanabosho and the Winter Giant” in the Appendix.

The reservation is in an area of a temperate climate. The weather varies from severe winters to moderate summers. In the winter, the temperature averages from 0 to 2 degrees F. The winter days average about nine hours of sunlight, while summer daylight stretches to 18 hours. Most of the rain occurs during the growing season which is anywhere from 90 to 116 days.

Natural Resources

The habitat of the Turtle “Mountain” hills is filled with small deciduous trees such as birch, oak, elm, poplar, aspen, willow, and cottonwood. The Manitoba Escarpment formed innate woodland lakes, which can be found on the average of one per square mile throughout the reservation. These lakes supply fishing of northern pike, walleye, and perch. The northern half of the reservation has excellent habitat for wildlife. The southern portion of the reservation consists of rolling plains, which is suitable for farming.

The flora of the Turtle Mountains consists of several varieties of plants which attract numerous forms of wildlife (deer, moose, wolves, fox, beavers, rabbit, and others). There are various types of waterfowl such as Canadian geese, ducks, and pelicans. Birds such as eagles, hawks, crows, robins, bluebirds, and wrens return year after year to take up residence. Covering the landscape is the tiger lily, ladiesslipper, dog rose, and sage. The wooded region of the Turtle Mountains is home to wild berries such as strawberries, cranberries, choke cherries, a type of hazelnut called a “puk’ on,” a flat prune-like berry which the Chippewa called a “black hawk,” and June berries. The natural resources of animals, plants, and forests have provided food, medicine, water, and shelter for its inhabitants.

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