White Earth Nation

Quality of Life


Quality of Life: A Great Place to Live, Work, and Play

If ever there was a true testimonial for the best quality of life, the White Earth area is the place to live. Surrounded by lakes, streams and forests, the communities of White Earth live in a very enviable area. Plenty of recreational opportunities, low cost of living, good education and health care, low crime rates and easy access to the world around them.

| General Information| Historical Overview| Current Characteristics| Land Ownership | EducationCommunity Services | Services Offered| Human Service Centers and Services Offered | Natural Resources



General Information:

The White Earth Reservation is located in the northwestern Minnesota counties of Mahnomen, Becker, and Clearwater. The reservation is located 68 miles from Fargo and 225 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Tribal headquarters are in White Earth, Minnesota. The White Earth Reservation, in northwestern Minnesota, is named for the white clay at White Earth Village. Never the historic homeland of any Ojibwe group, it became a reservation in 1867 in a treaty with the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe. It was to be the home of all of the Ojibwe in the state. The reservation was the size of a full county, 36 townships square, although divided among the three state counties of Mahnomen, Clearwater, and Becker. The land is typical of central Minnesota. Indian communities include White Earth, Pine Point/Ponsford, Naytahwaush, Elbow Lake, Beaulieu, Rice Lake, and Ebro. Other villages were built along the railroad track running south to north in the western part of the reservation, Callaway, Ogema, Waubun, and Mahnomen.

Historical Overview:

With the 1867 Treaty, great pressure was put on the bands to get them to move. Mississippi Band members from Gull Lake were the first group to come and settle around White Earth Village in 1868. The 1920 census reflected those who had settled in White Earth: 4,856 were from the Mississippi Band including 1,308 from Mille Lacs, the Pillager Bands had 1,218, Pembina Band 472, and 113 had come from Fond du Lac of the Superior Band. The different bands tended to settle in different areas of the reservation. Mille Lacs Lake members moved to the northeastern part of the reservation, around Naytahwaush and Beaulieau. Pillager Band members settled around Pine Point in the southeast. After 1873, Pembina Band members from the Red River Valley moved into a township on the western side of the reservation. These various groups of Indians, with their different backgrounds and cultures, continue to add a diversity of interests to the reservation today. The Dawes Act of 1887, Nelson Act of 1889 along with the subsequent Rice Commission negotiations and the two Clapp Amendments, 1904 and 1906, enabled the rapid division of the reservation into individually held parcels, allowing individuals to sell their lands and with many schemes to defraud. The timber was sold and cut and much of the land quickly passed into non-Indian ownership. In the decades since, there were several commissions and court actions to find out what happened. Four townships in the northeast corner also diminished the White Earth Reservation by the Nelson Act. The implications for hunting and fishing rights have had several court challenges. For the loss of the four townships, the agreement was to allow White Earth to trap and rice within the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Tribal land holdings were increased by over 28,000 acres of sub-marginal land, acquired by the federal government during the depression, and transferred to White Earth by 1975. The White Earth Land Settlement Act (WELSA) required transferring 10,000 acres of state/county held land to the Tribe that occurred in the 1990's. White Earth has relatively very little allotted land still remaining in trust, reflecting the destructive land-grabbing history of the reservation. Today only 8%, or approximately 63,000 acres are tribally owned/managed. The White Earth Tribal Council is the governing body and the Tribe is a member of the MCT. The Tribal Council consists of five members: Tribal Chair, Secretary/Treasurer, and three District Representatives.

Current Characteristics:

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the total population of the White Earth Reservation and off Trust land is 9,192 people, an increase of 5% over the 1990 U.S. Census. American Indians living on the reservation are widely disbursed among a number of rural communities, the largest of which are the communities of White Earth, which has historically served as the center of the reservation. The White Earth Reservation includes five incorporated cities and five major villages. The incorporated cities are the cities of Mahnomen (pop. 1,202), Waubun (pop. 403), Bejou (pop. 94), Ogema (pop. 143), and Callaway (pop. 200). The villages, which are predominately Native American, are: White Earth (pop. 424), Naytahwaush (pop. 583), Pine Point (pop. 337), Rice Lake (pop. 226) and Elbow Lake (pop. 104). White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa had a total enrollment of 20,908 as of 03/06/96.

Land Ownership:

The Reservation is a mixture of private, county, state, federal and tribal land holdings. Table 3 lists the acreages and percent of land ownership within the original boundaries of the Reservation. Ownership Acres Percent Private 522,108 62.36 County 123,925 14.80 Tribal 76,955 9.19 State of Minnesota 63,992 7.62 United States of America 36,992 4.42 Trust Fund Land 13,453 1.61













State of Minnesota



United States of America



Trust Fund Land



Community Services:

Public Water and Sewer: The incorporated cities of Mahnomen, Callaway, Bejou, Ogema, and Waubun are served by public water and sewer systems. The Chippewa Ranch and the unincorporated villages of White Earth, Elbow Lake, Rice Lake, Pine Point, Naytahwaush are also served by Tribal water and sewer systems.

Waste Management: Waste management carriers currently serve the entire Reservation, with the Tribe owning and operating its own system for Tribal members. Recycling centers and sheds are also located throughout the Reservation and are open one day per week as advertised. Household hazardous waste is accepted by Becker County Environmental Services year-round, and by Mahnomen and Clearwater County on scheduled dates.

Emergency Services: There are service areas for ambulance services and for fire services. The Reservation is served by a network of volunteer fire and ambulance services. The White Earth Reservation operates a 24-hour a day ambulance service. Dispatchers rotate shifts to cover the telephone and radio and to contact Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).

Energy: There are ample sources of energy to serve the Reservation. There are four providers of electric power on the Reservation: Ottertail Power Company, Wild Rice Electric Cooperative, Clearwater Polk Electric Cooperative and Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Electric Association. The abundant low sulfur coal in North Dakota is a major fuel used by large companies to produce electrical power. There appears to be enough electrical power available for both current needs and future growth until the year 2015. Additionally, wind energy appears to be a potential source of renewable energy. At the current time, studies are being conducted and an experimental wind turbine is being constructed to gather critical data on the economic feasibility of wind energy production.

Telecommunications: With respect to electronic connectivity, portions of the Reservation are accessible by fiber-optic cable, and portions via DSL or ADSL technology. Those areas not covered by these services can typically be connected via a purchased dial-up account. As technology in the satellite and wireless communications market continues to emerge and grow, it is expected that the competitive advantage that metropolitan areas have over rural areas will be negated. Connectivity via telephone is available in most areas of the Reservation. However, the high cost of service installation is a significant barrier for many low-income families on the Reservation. While the nationwide penetration rate for those with incomes below $5,000 in rural areas was 76.7% in 1999, the comparable rate for Native American persons on tribal land was 46.6%. Cellular and digital communications on the Reservation are less-than-adequate, with some areas being within "shadow" zones due to the lack of cellular towers, thus making continued mobile connectivity difficult.

Services Offered:

Head Start: The White Earth Head Start Program is based on the premise that all children, particularly those from low-income households, can benefit by receiving a comprehensive developmental program to meet their education needs.

There are six Head Start Centers and classrooms serving the White Earth Reservation. They are located at White Earth, Waubun, Rice Lake, Pine Point, Mahnomen, Elbow Lake and Naytahwaush. The program is funded for children three, four, and five years in age that come from low-income families. Ten percent of the children enrolled in Head Start may be from families above the federal income guidelines. Priority is given to handicapped and special needs children; Head Start offers services for the handicapped with ten percent of federal resources designated for these children.

Law Enforcement: The White Earth Reservation Tribal Law Enforcement Department works with the Minnesota State Patrol and county sheriff departments to provide law enforcement throughout the Reservation.

The top four serious offenses (Type I) committed on the Reservation in 1997 were larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft and aggravated assault. Less serious crimes (Type II) affecting the Reservation were vandalism, fraud, driving under the influence and other assaults (Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension).

Health Care Facilities: Multiple health services are available to the residents of the Reservation. Although some of the services are offered exclusively to persons of Indian descent, others are available to the public at-large.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the major health issues effecting Reservation residents in 1999 were as follows: heart disease, cancer, (malignant neoplasm) stroke and chronic lower respiratory disease.

Health issues facing persons of Native American descent were noted by the White Earth Health Department to include heart disease, diabetes, cancer and drug and alcohol abuse.

Inpatient Care Services: Residents of the White Earth Reservation are served by several local and regional care providers: St. Mary's Hospital in Detroit Lakes, Clearwater County Memorial Hospital in Bagley, Fosston Municipal Hospital in Fosston, Mahnomen County and Village Hospital in Mahnomen, and St. Joseph's Hospital in Park Rapids. Other inpatient services can be procured at Bemidji, Minneapolis, Rochester and Fargo, North Dakota. Some individuals find it necessary to travel hundreds of miles to obtain specialty inpatient services.

Outpatient Care Services: Clinic services are offered through both the Mahnomen Health Center and the Indian Health Service Center in White Earth and at its satellite centers in Naytahwaush and Pine Point.

Extended Care Services:  Extended care services are available on the Reservation at Mahnomen. Other nursing homes routinely utilized by residents are located in Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids and Twin Valley.

Ambulatory Patient Care Service: On-reservation ambulatory care is centered in Mahnomen, Naytahwaush and White Earth. Off-reservation care providers that service the needs of the Reservation are found in Bagley and Osage.

Community Health Services: Home based health services are provided to extend health care activities through community based operations. The prevention-oriented services offered provide a true public health dimension to the White Earth Service Unit Program. As such, they serve to support clinical services through identification, referral, tracking, follow-up and the development of special resources and home care programs. Additionally, Multi-County Nursing Services serves as the County Public Health Agency in Mahnomen and Becker counties, providing community health services to residents and communities of the Reservation. In addition to the Indian Health Service and other community care providers, the Tribal Council operates health services through its health and human services programs. Health services offered include: Tribal Health Service Administration, Community Health Nursing, Social Service/Mental Health Service, Health Education Services, Home Health Agency, Tribal Emergency Medical Service, Chemical Dependency Program, Community Health Representatives and Community Health Representatives.

With an aging population, the residents of the Reservation will place greater pressures on health care and senior care facilities over the next ten to twenty years.

Human Service Centers and Services Offered:

Human services are offered to Reservation residents through centers in Mahnomen, Detroit Lakes and Bagley. Additional services are offered to Tribal members through offices located in Naytahwaush and White Earth.

Tribal human services offered include: Adoption Services, Child Care, Employment and Training, Food Distribution, Geriatric Services, Indian Child Welfare, Victim Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Direct Employment and Constituent Services. County services include: Adoption, Case Management, Child Support Services, Counseling, Congregate and Home Delivered Meals, Day Care, Developmental Achievement Center, Detoxification, Emergency Placement, Extended Employment, Family Based Services, Food Benefits, Foster Care, General Assistance, Home School Interventions, Homemaking Services, Information and Referral, Juvenile Court Services, Legal Services, Money Management, Parenting Education, Protection Services, Residential Treatment, Respite, Screening and Transportation Services.

Natural Resources:

Cultural Resources are defined as prehistoric and historic archaeological or anthropological sites, objects, historic standing structures, sacred and burial locations, and areas where traditional practices resources or cultural properties are used, located or collected. All of these resources are important to the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa.

Land: The White Earth Land Department was established to enable the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council to manage and regulate all uses of Tribal lands for the benefit of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. The Land Department’s primary functions are to issue and approve leases and to administer purchases and returns of land to be placed into trust for the use of the White Earth Band of Ojibwa. Leases are issued for home site, lakeshore, business and recreational leases.

Fishing: The major species of fish are walleyes, northern pike and large mouth bass. Other species that are present are: sauger, muskellunge, small mouth bass, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, bluegill, white crappie, black crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, lake sturgeon, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, tulaby and white fish. A number of species of rough fish are also found on the Reservation including suckers, redhorse and carp. The most valuable species to the Tribe is walleye.

Wild Rice: The gathering of wild rice for food and trade has been an integral part of this region’s history and culture for the thousands of years. Of the over 500 lakes and ponds on the Reservation, a 1983 survey located 53 beds covering over 3,000 acres. The largest area of wild rice beds is Lower Rice Lake with up to 1,400 acres of beds capable of producing about 300,000 pounds of green rice by hand harvesting. 

Enforcement: The White Earth Reservation encompasses 1,296 square miles. This includes 530 lakes, 300 miles of rivers and streams, 951 miles of County, State, Federal and BIA roads (not including logging roads and trails) and 1,500 miles of snowmobile trails. The vastness of this area presents numerous challenges for the enforcement of conservation regulations and monitoring of game limits, seasons and illegal activities. These activities are regulated under the White Earth Conservation Code.  For More Information go to: http://www.whiteearth.com/naturalresources.htm.


The White Earth Reservation is located in northwestern Minnesota and contains three Minnesota counties: Mahnomen, Becker and Clearwater and covers 1300 square miles. There are six public school districts and one private school in the White Earth Area: a tribally controlled Bureau of Indian Affairs' school (Circle of Life; K-12), a tribally controlled state school (Pine Point; K-8) and a public charter school ( Naytahwaush Community Charter School ; Pre-K – 6). Student enrollment at these three schools is 100% Native American. The Mahnomen District (Pre-K-12), including a private school (St. Michael’s Pre-K – 6), and Waubun-Ogema (Pre-K – 12) School Districts are located on the reservation and serve a large majority of the Native American students living on the Reservation, as well as Non-Indian youth living on or near the reservation.  The Bagley (Pre-K-12) School is located adjacent to the White Earth Reservation and serves American Indian children living in the tribal community of Rice Lake, as well as Non-Indian youth from the city of Bagley. 

DistrictSchool Name Grades School Type Total Enrollment


School Name


School Type

Total Enrollment


Bagley Elementary





Bagley Secondary










Mahnomen Elementary





Mahnomen Secondary





Mahnomen ALC





St. Michael’s










Naytahwaush Community Charter


Public Charter







Pine Point

Pine Point Elementary










Circle of Life School










Waubun Elementary





Waubun Secondary





Ogema Elementary





Source: WhiteEarth Education Department & National Center for Education Statistics