The Little Shell Pembina Nation has requested a criminal complaint be filed against the U.S. government for violation of treaty law and international law.
The Little Shell Pembina Nation alleges that, when the federal government created the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation in 1882, it used unceded Little Shell lands in violation of the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty. According to a proposed criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Sept. 9, in federal court, the nation is seeking financial recompense for all economic and environmental activities and injuries caused on unceded ancestral lands, as well as a public apology from the U.S. government for humanitarian crimes committed against the Pembina Chippewa people of the Little Shell Pembina Nation.
Though the Little Shell Pembina Nation is not a formally recognized tribe by North Dakota or the U.S. government, Breanna Kay Delorme, the attorney representing the tribe, noted it was recognized by the United States in the Old Crossing Treaty in 1863. The Little Shell Pembina Nation has 18 members, according to Delorme, who said there are many other descendants enrolled in the Turtle Mountain Band.
Representatives from the Turtle Mountain Band and the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission did not return calls for comment on Friday, Sept. 11.
To the best of Delorme's knowledge, no other tribe has ever sought an apology and restitution from the U.S. government in a criminal case before. If the proposed criminal case is denied by the U.S. court -- which Delorme said she believes will likely be the case -- it intends to take the case to the International Court of Justice.
On March 24, the Little Shell Pembina Nation formally filed a Declaration of Indigenous Identity and Rights with the United Nations. In addition to the criminal case, Delorme said she expects to file a separate civil complaint seeking damages in U.S. court soon.
"The United States likes to just deny claims that it should be held accountable for its actions," Delorme said. "So we will be taking it to the International Court of Justice if it does deny our claim."
The Little Shell Pembina Nation are descendants of the leaders of the Little Shell Band of Chippewa, a historic sub-band of the Turtle Mountain Band. In past centuries, the group had scattered, with many winding up in Montana, where the Little Shell Band of Chippewa became formally recognized by the U.S. government last year. According to the tribe's website, there are more than 5,400 enrolled tribal members in Montana.
A fictitious tribe called the Little Shell Pembina Band of North America, which has no connection to the historic the Little Shell Pembina Nation, also materialized in 2003, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL classifies the group as an anti-government extremist organization, which at one time engaged in immigration fraud schemes, though it appears to no longer be active.
Descendants of the first Chief Little Shell remain in the area. The 18 people of the Little Shell Pembina Nation are one such group, led by Karyence Ronald Delorme, or Chief Little Shell VII, according to court documents.
Delorme said the criminal case is years in the making -- in many ways, the tribe has sought an apology and recompense from the U.S. government since it committed the alleged theft and fraud more than a century ago.
She also noted that the tribe never ceded its lands to the U.S.
"The Little Shell Pembina Nation is probably one of the only tribes left in the United States that has not consented to the jurisdiction of the United States," Delorme said.
The 12-page proposed complaint details several other alleged criminal acts by the United States, including theft, fraud, forgery, tampering with records and violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"I mean, most of our claims are based on the paper trail that they left themselves," Delorme said. "This isn't something that really should surprise the United States. They're the ones that documented their entire fraud."