Completing the square: Buying land at corners of historical territory, Sokaogon Chippewa hope to convince Congress of 19th century treaty mistakeSubmitted: 07/24/2018
Story By Ben Meyer

Completing the square: Buying land at corners of historical territory, Sokaogon Chippewa hope to convince Congress of 19th century treaty mistake
MOLE LAKE - At a glance, the acre is a simple swath of land in the woods near Pelican Lake.

But to Jimmy Landru Jr.'s eyes, it's a cornerstone of his tribe.

"It brings a lot of emotions to me, because this is my home," Landru, a member of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, said last week.

The tribe bought the acre of land and erected a historical marker this year on the site.

In documents passed down through his wife's family, Landru learned the historical range of the Sokaogon once covered about 20 square miles in today's Oneida, Forest, and Langlade counties. It traced a rough square with Pelican Lake, Summit Lake, Pickerel Lake, and Lake Metonga on its corners.

Landru is leading the effort to buy pieces of land on the corners of that square and put up historical markers. The one on Pelican Lake is the first.

"When I got these documents, it put a fire under me to try to find it," Landru said.

The documents, now turning yellow, were written by former Chief Willard Ackley. They suggest the tribe, in a 1854 treaty with the United States, was promised a reservation of at least 12 square miles within that 20-square-mile box.

Instead, they got no land at all.

"They wanted to conveniently cheat us out of our land," Landru said.

Some treaty documents were lost, and the Sokaogon Chippewa was landless for more than 80 years. For that reason, some people still know them as the "Lost Tribe."

The federal government finally bought about 1,700 acres for the tribe in the 1930s.

"We can talk for ourselves. We can understand for ourselves. We know we were cheated out of our land," Landru said. "We will find evidence someday to prove that [the original territory] was mapped out."

Landru has help to find that evidence.

"It's not the proper way to treat another nation," former tribal chair Charles McGeshick said of what the United States did to the tribe.

McGeshick is Landru's uncle. Along with the tribe's elder advisory committee, he's been fighting for what he thinks is right.

The tribe hopes to someday convince Congress of the federal government's 19th century mistake. It wants compensation for the thousands of acres it feels cheated out of.

"I'm pretty sure that we will win. In fact, I'm confident that we will when. It's just when," said McGeshick. "I hope they don't lose [the will to fight], the youth don't lose it. I know I haven't lost it--I'm just getting older, that's all."

Landru's willing to be patient. But in the meantime, he'll keep working hard.

"We've just got to continue to keep our heads down and working hard, and eventually, we will find the evidence that we need," Landru said. "It might not be in my generation, but who knows?"

The Sokaogon Chippewa Community now owns pieces of land on Pelican Lake and Summit Lake.

It's looking to buy land, or get land donations, near Lake Metonga and Pickerel Lake to complete the corners of its historical range.

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