The Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Minnesota

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe had affirmed its commitment to preserve, protect and promote tribal cultural heritage by becoming a signatory to the Agreement made with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service in 1996. This trust includes the management of prehistoric, historic cultural and burial sites that make up the fundamental cultural history of the Leech Lake Band on tribal lands.

On January 11, 1996, the Leech Lake Tribal Council was duly presented and adopted the Tribal Resolution No. 96-58 that officially appointed a Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.

The Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Office was included in the first group approved by the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service on July 7, 1996.

Leech Lake has been a member of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) since 1998.

LLTHPO Section 106 reviewing averages approximately 300 projects on reservation and 300 off reservation on ceded territories annually.

Gerald White was the founding Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Officer from 1996-2001. As of September 13, 2001, Gina Lemon assumed the responsibilities of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. At that time, there were only 34 THPOs in the United States.

LLTHPO employees:

Gina Lemon, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO)/NAGPRA Coordinator

Sheila Gotchie, Office Manager THPO/Heritage Sites

Belinda Smith- LLTHPO Student Intern

Lemon brings over 18 years of experience in the environmental arena to this current position. In addition to being the THPO, Lemon has responsibilities of being the Band’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Coordinator. Prior to being the THPO, she held numerous positions with the Leech Lake Band and was federally employed as a Soil Scientist’s Assistant with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and USDA- Forest Service (USFS) as a Cultural Resource Specialist. While working for the Forest Service, Lemon, received a Regional Award in Region 9 for assisting in the development and implementation of a founding federal program, first in the U.S., the “Traditional Resources Inventory Program.” She is the former founding President of the Board of Directors for the Cass Lake City Museum (MN), elected by City Officials. Lemon currently has professional memberships with the Beltrami County Historical Society Board Member and the Minnesota Historical Society Indian Advisory Committees.

LLTHPO responsibilities:

  • Enforce Historic Preservation Law on lands within the exterior boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation which include cease and desist orders, through collaboration with County Sheriff Departments, Leech Lake Tribal Police and the Leech Lake Conservation Officers
  • Reinforce the already existing aspirations each tribal community embraces for maintaining our cultural heritage and preservation initiatives, and speak on their behalf with regard to traditional practices
  • Assist in locating areas that are of importance to tribal members regarding ideal locations for specific traditional plant gathering areas near the community they live in, by providing U.S. Forest Service maps, GIS mapping, etc. in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service
  • When requested we provide education to the Leech Lake Bands thirteen active Local Indian Councils, located in tribal communities throughout the Reservation
  • We work closely with Local Indian Councils (LICs) to help them understand the particular projects in the community that may impact their life ways and support tribal members with responsiveness of ongoing planning by the federal agencies in the Section 106 process
  • Encourage federal agencies, local governments and private owners to seek assistance to establish and improve existing communication levels to better understand tribal preservation issues and increase awareness of tribal environmental laws and ordinances regarding our natural and cultural resources
  • Address matters related to the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for inadvertent discoveries of burials, burial issues and repatriation of cultural objects and associated/unassociated funerary objects
  • Coordinate/facilitate tribal, state, and federal section 106 meetings
  • Consistently meeting with federal agencies regarding tribal consultation requirements under Section 106

LLTHPO Programmatic Agreements and Contracts Entered:

  • LLTHPO has entered numerous Programmatic Agreements with various federal agencies, specific to the Leech Lake Nation and project specific agreements that affect our tribal and ceded lands.
  • U.S. Forest Service- Historical precedent setting with our Tribal Government and Federal Agency. On August 10, 2010 we signed the agreement (this PA took over ten years to finalize).
  • Many Professional Service contracts with federal agencies and local environmental consultants to conduct TCP surveys/reports, a few are mentioned below:
  • Cultural Resource Monitoring Contract with HDR Engineering on behalf of Ottertail, Minnkota and Minnesota Powers to a total of $190,000, one of the largest amount for Cultural Resource Monitoring entered into by LLBO
  • Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) Study; Enbridge contract roughly $30,000, largest amount to date for a TCP survey entered into by LLBO
  • “Traditional Uses of Resources on National Forest” land contract with University of Minnesota to allow Band members to be interviewed regarding types of resources gathered and discuss any issues with U.S. Forest Service personal while gathering
  • Traditional Resource Inventory two year contract with U.S. Forest Service to conduct Tribal member interviews on areas of traditional resource use on the Chippewa National Forest. To date 452 interviews were conducted and the end result indicated that almost the entire Chippewa National Forest is utilized by Band members; the amount of tribal members interviewed were less than 1% of resident enrollees

LLTHPO Contracted Cultural Resource Monitor:

The incumbent of this position participates in conducting independent fieldwork to consist of survey/inventory of unidentified sites and provide additional protection of known sites, especially burials, significant to the Leech Lake Band during ground disturbing activities on aboriginal territory lands on specific projects on a case-by-case basis.

Scott Whitebird, Contracted Cultural Resource Monitor


  • Report all activities and findings to the appropriate Supervisory Person daily and weekly; keep detailed notes of activities that may be impacting cultural sites or other pertinent information should be included in reports
  • Monitoring of cultural sites/burials during construction activities must be as close to those activities as permitted with regard to safety coming first
  • If there are inadvertent sites or burials discovered during construction, accurate and detailed recorded information must be submitted immediately to the THPO and Supervisory Personnel on site
  • In the event of inadvertent discoveries, contact with the THPO and Project Manager must be done immediately to ensure full protection measures are in place; all construction activities must be halted until the consensus of both the THPO/Project Manager is in writing. After it is officially concurred to proceed it must be in written form before construction activities are to proceed. (100 foot buffer to secure the site must be the first action taken)

Required Knowledge:

  • Knowledge of the Ojibwe Culture and including traditional resources significant to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  • Demonstrates familiarity of reservation lands also an understanding of federal and state laws, regulations pertaining to antiquities on public private (fee), and tribal (trust) lands

LLTHPO Cemetery Documentation Project 2012:

In the fall of 2010 Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Office was contacted by Anishinaabe Legal Services on behalf of an anonymous Leech Lake Band member to conduct formal documentation of a family cemetery in an effort to obtain ownership of the land parcel, which is currently owned by Potlatch Corporation. It is the wish of the Band member that the property be deeded to his family to ensure the cemetery’s future maintenance.

Our documentation is the first complete recording of this Family Cemetery. The documentation was initiated in the fall of 2010 by Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (LLTHPO) and the Heritage Sites Field Director, Colleen Wells and was completed in the fall of 2011 by the LLTHPO and Belinda Smith, LLTHPO Intern.

As an additional benefit, by conducting this project, it allows us to combine information with other future cemetery documentation projects on lands within the Leech Lake Reservation boundaries. This project is an integral link to the continuation of a burial documentation project which was started in 2000 through the Heritage sites Program for the Leech Lake Tribal Historic Preservation Office. The objective of both projects is to ensure that unmarked burials in these cemeteries would be properly documented to facilitate future protection.

The Leech Lake Archaeological Firm - known as the Heritage Sites Program (HSP)

The THPO and HSP work together to manage the cultural resources here at Leech Lake.

As of 1993, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Heritage Sites Program, the Archaeological Firm, has been conducting the majority of archaeological work on all lands within the reservation boundaries. On rare occasions, we have issued Archaeological Activity Permits to other Archaeologists or Firms to allow such activity on lands within the reservation. Having been in operation for close to 20 years, LLHSP has built a well known reputation in this profession across the United States.

Leech Lake’s Archaeological Firm employs:

  • Four Archaeologists:

Thor Olmanson, MS Senior Archaeologist/Program Director

Colleen Wells, MS Field Director/GIS Coordinator/Records Management

Jacob Foss, MS Field Director

Mathew Mattson, MS Candidate, Assistant Field Director


  • Four seasonal/permanent employees:

    • Patsy Fisher, Archaeological Technician

    • Francis Guinn, Archaeological Technician

    • Will Kingbird, Archaeological Technician

    • Scott Whitebird, Archaeological Technician

Heritage Sites Field Crew- Donna Beaudreau, Ken Goggleye, Francis Guinn, Will Kingbird, Patsy Fisher and Scott Whitebird


  • Average of ten seasonal temporary employees, this includes Leech Lake Tribal College STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Interns:

    • Donna Beaudreau, Archaeological Technician

    • Ken Goggleye, Archaeological Technician

    • Justin Johnson, Archaeological Technician

    • Kevin Locke, Archaeological Technician

    • George Wind, Archaeological Technician

Heritage Sites Field Crew- Kevin Locke, Justin Johnson and George Wind


Research Technology:

  The Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program/Archaeological Firm uses up-to-date technology in fieldwork and analysis. All site and survey information is stored in GIS and Access databases, which greatly streamlines consultation and pre-field reviews. Field data is collected using a variety of GPS units, including a Trimble GeoXT with sub-meter accuracy. We also use a GEM Systems Overhauser GSM-19 Magnetometer for identifying unmarked burials. Analysis of field data includes GIS applications, as well as Excel and 3D modeling software such as Surfer and ESRI ArcScene (right). Graphic illustration programs are used to create detailed, professional figures for reports. The chart presented above (left) is an example of statistical analysis conducted on artifacts recovered during excavation. The 3D image was produced in Surfer using vertical and horizontal provenience data collected during excavation of the Walker Hill Site.

A well-known Site Discovered by LLHSP -

“The Walker Hill Site”

In 2005, Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program personnel identified a prehistoric lithic scatter (21CA0668, which has come to be known as “The Walker Hill Site” in Cass County, Minnesota. The site was found on a hilltop with the nearest body of water resting at approximately 150 feet (46 meters) below and 1,500 feet (457 meters) east of the current Leech Lake pool elevation and shoreline. The site was quickly recognized to be unique due to its location far from existing water sources, and because the cultural materials were found in a pristine glacial outwash deposit, strongly suggesting that the site had been occupied concurrently with the wasting glacier. Current understandings indicate that the latest glacier receded from this area perhaps 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, while the earliest accepted date for human occupation of the area stands at approximately 11,000 years ago, largely due to outmoded Clovis assumptions. Lithic artifacts were initially recovered from a well-defined soil stratum below a layer of coarse gravels that appeared to be a glacially derived outwash deposit. This contextual analysis was confirmed and expanded upon by a number of independent soil scientists and glacial geologists throughout ensuing excavations between 2005 and 2007. The consensus is that the deeper deposits beneath the gravel/rock stratum consist of delicately bedded glacial outwash deposits (water deposited) capped with Aeolian (wind deposited) materials left primarily undisturbed since they were deposited (right).


  The recovered artifacts are somewhat atypical from later assemblages, being comprised largely of bipolar lithic debitage and expedient tools primarily derived from the meager lithic materials available in the area. Thus, the ratio of debitage to tool forms is much lower than that seen on sites with more abundant lithic raw material sources because virtually every cutting blade and scraping edge was apparently utilized to maximize the potential benefits of these sparse resources. Some lithic materials not available in the local deposits were also identified, strengthening a hypothesis of some human transport. Initially considering the site in orthodox terms, we were puzzled that we had not recovered any examples of conventional diagnostic tool forms (e.g. PaleoIndian lanceolate projectile points), despite the sparse but consistent recovery of lithic debitage, thermally altered lithic raw materials, choppers (right), scrapers (above), blades, and a variety of expedient tools.


  A growing number of cautious scientists have approached this site with some justifiable skepticism, but after careful study and proper consideration of the geomorphological context, none have come up with a convincing alternate explanation (aside from human industry) that had not already been carefully considered and discarded in light of a realistic understanding of the site materials and geomorphic formation processes. The site clearly warrants further investigation to more fully define the cultural manifestation and to gain valuable insights into early human occupation patterns associated with glacial margins in the Mississippi Headwaters Area.

In 2007, in recognition of the complex soil stratigraphy of the location, the intensive lithic utilization at the site, and a realization that the underlying artifact bearing deposits did not conform to the current surface configuration, a ten-meter grid of 50 centimeter (cm) x 50cm excavation units was placed across a portion of the site and samples from each 10cm level of each test unit were fine screened and examined for the presence of microdebitage. The resulting data guided the placement of 1x1 meter excavation units, which further led to the identification of a number of discrete activity areas within the site. One of these contained two small hearth features that had been dug into the water deposited layers, apparently prior to the deposition of the wind borne upper layer deposit. Another area yielded a weathered “thumbnail” scraper (left) and a diminutive bifacially worked tool (<1 cm) made from locally available Lake Superior Agate that appears to have been fluted and hafted for use (lower right). These were recovered from the interface between the water laid deposits and the Aeolian cap. This biface was dubbed the “Burnette Microtool” after Amanda Burnette, a Leech Lake Tribal College Intern funded by the National Science Foundation, who discovered the tool. Floral analysis of the hearth showed that predominantly spruce had been used as firewood. Preliminary phytolith analysis of selected soil samples further revealed the presence of grasses and sedges. While entirely consistent with vegetation along a glacial margin, these plant species are unlikely to have dominated a well drained hilltop during the past 10,000 years or so. Volunteer processing of quantities of soil samples, artifacts, and soils analyses have been ongoing since the 2007 excavations were suspended. A comprehensive preliminary report is in progress and forthcoming.

LLBO Heritage Sites Program responsibilities:

  • Consults with various agencies and contractors to ensure Section 106 compliance

  • Conducts required archaeological investigations to ensure the preservation of historic and prehistoric resources

  • Maintains GIS and access data bases of all sites and surveys conducted
  • Provides public outreach and conducts training for other government agencies

  • Provides educational opportunities for Leech Lake Tribal College STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Interns

  • Provides job experience through the Leech Lake Education Division

  • Curates artifacts

  • Leech Lake Archaeological Firm has accumulated a collection of 90,000-100,000 artifacts

The Leech Lake Band has been in participating agreement since 1988, for 25 years, with the U.S. Forest Service- Chippewa National Forest. Leech Lake matches 1/3 of the archaeological fees on each contract. From 2002-2009 the Leech Lake Archaeological Firm has surveyed 33,142.5 acres through both on and off reservation projects. We can confidently say that we do approximately 95% of the archaeological work on the National Forest.

The LL HSP currently is conducting the majority of archaeological work for the Minnesota Army National Guard (MNARNG) down at Camp Ripley. MNARNG manages close to 32,000 acres in central Minnesota. Under contract, LLHSP is conducting a majority of the necessary archaeological work as a collaborative effort with MNARNG. This is to raise awareness, to reflect the significance of a tribe conducting such work, that in the past having a tribal nation doing this type of work at a military installation was unheard of. Their response was; who can determine whether there will be impacts to cultural material that is important to native people than a tribally owned archaeological firm.

Facts of Leech Lake

Leech Lake is one of the six bands comprising Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) the remaining five member reservations include: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Mille Lacs and White Earth.

The Leech Lake reservation was created primarily with the Treaties of 1855, 1864 and 1867.

  • The treaty of 1855 was between the United States and the Chippewa.
  • The treaty of 1864 was between the United States and the Mississippi, Pillager and Winnebigoshish Bands of Chippewa.
  • The 1867 treaty was between the United States and the Mississippi Band of Chippewa, with further definition by three executive orders of October ’73, November ’73 and May ’75.

Geographic Data

Leech Lake Reservation extends over four counties (Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard, and Itasca) that contain 50 townships spanning a 1,050 square mile radius.

  • Reservation boundaries- 869,324.18 acres
  • Water acreage- 246,836 acres
  • Nearest metro area- Minneapolis/St. Paul which lies between 210-230 miles south of Leech Lake approximately

Of the 155 National Forests in the U.S., the Chippewa National Forest is the only one with such extensive overlapping boundaries with a reservation (Leech Lake) as shown on the map below.

Chippewa National Forest (CNF)- 1,596,624 acres

  • Within reservation boundaries- 777,732 acres