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Lac du Flambeau tribe celebrates ownership of Strawberry Island

VILAS COUNTY, WI (WTAQ) - An island on the Lac du Flambeau Indian reservation is back in tribal hands, over 100 years after they lost it.

A ceremony was held Thursday to celebrate the return of Strawberry Island to the tribe.

The Mills family of Aspen Colorado had owned the 26-acre site on Flambeau Lake since 1910. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places as as a likely Indian burial ground.

The tribe started negotiating in the mid-1990's to get the island back. That was after Vilas County rejected a building permit for a new home and garage, because it might disturb Indian burial grounds from a territorial dispute decades ago between the Chippewa and Sioux nations.

In 1999, tribal voters rejected a referendum to buy the island for $1.5 million. Walter Mills later filed suit, to force the tribe to buy the site -- but a state appeals court ruled in 2003 it had no authority to overturn the "decision of a sovereign nation."

Negotiations then resumed, but the tribe could not afford the asking price until it got down to a quarter-million dollars.

Besides the historical significance, Lac du Flambeau chairman Tom Maulson says Strawberry Island also has spiritual importance. He said the Ojibwe people owned it for hundreds or years until they lost it.

(Story courtesy of Wheeler News Service)