By Guido Ebert
White Earth Reservation, located about 225 miles from the Twin Cities and 65 east of Fargo/Moorhead area, is the largest Native American reservation in the state by land area – spanning 1,093 square miles and including all of Mahnomen County plus parts of Becker and Clearwater counties.
The Reservation is situated in an area of the state where the prairie meets the forest. The western part of the Reservation is prime prairie land while the southern and eastern areas feature dense forest – including the 160,000-acre White Earth State Forest – and numerous lakes.
Lakes dotting the Reservation’s land include Bass Lake; Big Rat Lake; Lower Rice Lake; Many Point Lake; North Twin Lake-South Twin Lake; Roy Lake; Round Lake; Snider Lake; Strawberry Lake; Tulaby Lake; and White Earth Lake. Roy Lake and Strawberry Lake both serve as popular tourist and vacation destinations.
HISTORY & ATTRACTIONS
The 9,100 Native community members of White Earth Reservation identify as Anishinaabe or Ojibwe.
The Reservation was created on March 19, 1867, during a treaty signing in Washington, D.C. Ten Chiefs met with President Andrew Johnson at the White House to negotiate the treaty. A year later, the chiefs Wabanquot (White Cloud), a Gull Lake Mi Chippewa, and Fine Day, of the Removable Mille Lacs Indians, were among the first to move with their followers to White Earth.
Today, the White Earth Reservation has many settlements located within its borders. While you’d think the White Earth Tribe has the run of the property, it doesn’t. The Tribe owns only around 10% of the land within the reservation, Federal government owns 15%, State owns 7%, Counties own 17% and Private ownership makes up about 51%.
The largest community is Mahnomen, which is predominately non-Native in population, while Elbow Lake, Waubun, Ogema, Pine Point, Rice Lake, Twin Lakes and Callaway are considered to have predominately Native populations. Naytahwaush and White Earth each feature approx. 580 inhabitants and are the largest Native communities on the Reservation.
Need food or fuel? The communities of White Earth and Naytahwaush are rather sparse, so your best bet is to ride into Waubun or Mahnomen.
Waubun is located at the junction of MN-113 and U.S.-59. When the Soo Line built through the county in 1903-4, stations had to have Indian names. Thus Waubun was incorporated as a village on December 18, 1907. Today the community of approx. 400 features about a dozen businesses, including multiple places to stop for a drink or a burger and an EZ 1 Stop gas station and convenience store.
Mahnomen is located just south of the junction of U.S.-59 and MN-200, on the banks of the Wild Rice River. The city – incorporated as a village in 1905 and now home to a population of approx. 1,200 – serves not only as the seat of Mahnomen County, but also as a trade, health, education, recreation and tourism center for those living within a 40-mile radius.
The community of Elbow Lake in Becker County has approx. 100 residents and is situated on the shores of the 985-acre lake. There’s no ramp for boat access, but you can park your bike and catch Bluegill, Bass, Pike and Walleye if you have your two-piece rod along.
You’ll also be skirting the White Earth State Forest, which offers primitive camping, a fishing pier, boat launch, historic site, rest area and trails for motorized and non-excursions – including 65 miles of dual-purpose forest roads.
If camping at Itasca State Park or White Earth State Forest isn’t your thing, White Earth Nation owns and operates the Shooting Star Casino & Hotel in Mahnomen, or you can book a cabin at the Pinehurst Resort & Campground located between North and South Twin Lakes near Naytahwaush.