Approximately 65 Wisconsin families are being held hostage by the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who have erected illegal barricades on the only roads that lead to their homes, preventing them from entering or leaving, The Federalist reports.
This has left residents stranded and fearful, as the only way out of the reservations is over frozen lakes that are quickly melting with the coming spring.
The dispute arose over a land dispute involving two non-tribal title companies, the town of Lac du Flambeau, and the tribe.
For the past 31 days, yellow barricades and chained-together concrete blocks have been placed on the roads, creating a hostile environment and escalating racial tensions.
The tribe’s president, John Johnson, is demanding $20 million to open the roads for only 15 years, which has been labeled as “extortion” by Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany.
According to Rep. Tiffany, the tribe has received $218 million in federal funds since 2013 and receives federal funding through the Tribal Transportation Program for all four roads in question, making the blockade illegal.
Tiffany sent a letter to the tribe late last month formally asking them to remove the roadblocks on four taxpayer-funded roads in Lac Du Flambeau.
A press release on the matter indicated that the tribe has been blocking access to the roads on Annie Sunn Lane, Center Sugarbush Lane, East Ross Allen Lake Lane, and Elsie Lake Lane since Tuesday, Jan 31.
“Like most area residents, I want to see a resolution that addresses the concerns of all parties,” said Tiffany in the letter. “However, this will not happen so long as the tribal government continues to block open access to these roads. In fact, the longer the roadblocks remain in place, the more likely policymakers will be to pursue a legislative option.”
“I hope you will reconsider your current position and join me in pressing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to produce the existing appraisals of these rights-of-way so that legitimate negotiations can begin in earnest,” Tiffany wrote.
Many of the blockaded homes are over 20 miles from the nearest grocery store and their residents’ jobs.
This has left residents struggling to survive, and some have even considered closing their businesses due to the blockade.
“I’m paying taxes to be illegally blockaded on my private land,” said Marsha Panfil, who owns and runs Hornwinkels Bear Stube, a historic bar and restaurant in Lac du Flambeau.
Panfil and her partner Mike Hornbostel are forced to cross a frozen lake to leave their home, which is not safe during the spring thaw.
“I’ve worked my entire life to buy a beautiful home on a lake, and now it’s worth zero,” said Hornbostel. “I can’t live there. I can’t sell it. It’s worth nothing. And that’s because the government won’t do anything, law enforcement will not enforce the laws, and our town is inept.”
Panfil and Hornbostel have even considered renting another house to continue running their business.
Hornbostel explained how it is the duty of the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police Chief TJ Bill to remove the unlawful barricades.
However, Bill has refused to do so, leading Hornbostel to believe the chief is taking orders from Johnson, the tribe’s president.
Denny Pearson, another blockaded resident, crosses Ross Allen Lake every day to get to work, but he won’t be able to do so for much longer.
“When the ice goes out, there’ll be no way to get to and from work,” Pearson said, adding that tensions are likely to reach a breaking point once the ice becomes too thin.