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Tribal Historical Overview - Self Determination

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Self Determination | Trenton Indian Service Area

Self Determination

The idea of self determination was first addressed by President Lyndon Johnson in an address to Congress. Indian leaders advocated for a change from termination to self control, which meant, at some future point, tribes would assume control over their own affairs without bureaucratic interference. This did not mean the federal government would have less responsibility to tribes or end their federal trust relationship. President Richard Nixon continued to support Indian self-determination. In 1975, Congress passed the Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act. This public law formally recognized the right of autonomy of tribal nations as a national Indian policy.

Tribal Community College Act, 1978
Turtle Mountain Community College

Growing awareness that more college-educated tribal people were needed to provide necessary and effective services on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation led to efforts in the 1960s to bring college courses to the reservation. Efforts by local Indian citizens resulted in a charter from the Tribe to establish the Turtle Mountain Community College (TMCC) in 1972. In September of 1976, the college received a Certificate of Incorporation from the State of North Dakota. The founding mission of the college was to provide higher education services for tribal members, preserve and promote the history and culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and provide leadership and community service to the reservation. TMCC offers Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Science, and Vocational Certificate programs.

In 1978, the Tribal Controlled College Assistance Act was significant in that it provided the financial support required to implement the Tribe’s higher educational goals. Land grant status was granted to the institution in 1994. Another achievement occurred in 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the Executive Order directing that all federal agencies support tribal controlled colleges.

Turtle Mountain Community College is fully accredited. The college became a candidate for accreditation in 1980, and received full accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) in 1984. In 2003, TMCC was recommended by a visiting team from the Higher Learning Commission of the NCA for 10 more years of accreditation.

In 2007, more than 650 students were enrolled at Turtle Mountain Community College. To date more than 1,000 tribal members have graduated from the institution. Approximately 300 of them have gone on to earn bachelors and advanced degrees. While the reservation experiences high unemployment, the graduates of Turtle Mountain Community College experience a much lower unemployment rate.

In the spring of 1997, a ground-breaking ceremony was held and work began on a new, $10 million facility designed to serve 800 students. Those who attended witnessed what many have called sacred messages…there were some special things happening around the sun, and an eagle floated above during the ceremony.

1982 Treaty Settlement

In 1980, the U.S. Court of Claims awarded a judgment to the Pembina Band of Chippewa for $52.5 million stemming from the McCumber Agreement. This payment (dockets numbered 113, 191, 221, and 246), was payment for more than 8 million acres of land in north central North Dakota. The ninety-seventh Congress of the United States passed an act known as Public law 97-403 in December of 1982. The Act provided for the use and distribution of funds awarded to five Pembina Indian Bands. Awardees included the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Rocky Boy Chippewa-Cree of Montana, White Earth Pembina Band of the Minnesota Chippewa, Little Shell Band of Chippewa (Montana), and various Pembina descendants.

Congress appropriated funds to the Bureau of Indian Affairs whose responsibility it was to certify eligibility and distribution of funds. The Bureau distributed 80 percent of the funds to eligible members and held 20 percent in trust for the benefit of the Turtle Mountain Band. The Act directed the Secretary of the Interior to authorize the Tribal Council to use the interest and investment income accrued from the 20 percent set-aside for economic development. The McCumber Agreement Award (for the Ten Cent Treaty) was invested by the BIA Branch of Investments. In a period of eight years the invested money grew to more than $102 million.


“LePay” is a French word meaning payment. Lands treated and agreed upon for nearly 100 years had not been justly compensated. The people, who were now receiving the payment, expressed mixed feelings. They were reminded of the sufferings that their ancestors endured while they waited in anticipation of “LePay.” Writing to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Indian Agent F. O. Getchell described the torment of the Turtle Mountain people:

Such is the place and such are nearly 2,000 of
the people who are besieged in their mountain
fastness by the peaceful army of the plow that
has settled their hunting grounds. Here they are
held in worst than bondage while they are waiting,
for a settlement with the government for the land
so settled by the plowmen, waiting for a day that
never comes. While their chance in the land that
was their own is fading, fading away from them.
God pity their patient waiting and appoint that it
may not have been in vain.
(Senate Doc. No. 239,
54th Congress, 1st Session)

Payment to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa came through the distribution of three treaty checks. In 1984, members whose names appeared on the 1940 base roll, from the Old Crossing Treaty, received the first payment of about $43.81. They issued a partial payment on June 16, 1988, for $1,721.50, and a final payment on February 1994 of approximately $1,200. Tribal members of one-fourth or more degree of Indian blood and born on or before December 31, 1982 and enrolled before December 30, 1983 were entitled to share in the claim as an enrolled member. Minors, entitled to the treaty payment, have monies held in trust until their 18th birthday. The Bureau completed total distribution to this group in 2000.

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