The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian Reservation is located on a six mile by twelve-mile land base and is considered one of the most densely populated Reservations, per square mile, in the United States. If the Turtle Mountain Reservation was listed as a city, it would be the 5th largest city in North Dakota.  The Reservation is near the geographical center on North America in north central North Dakota, ten miles south of the Canadian Border.


The hub city on the reservation is Belcourt, ND and is situated in Rolette County.  The surrounding communities where tribal members also live include:


Rolla (Population: 928) 6-miles from Belcourt, has an average income of $21,016 and is considered as 18.9% below the poverty level.


St. John (Population: 319) 14-miles from Belcourt,  has an average income of $14,470 and is considered to be 16.2% below the poverty level.


Dunseith (Population: 538) 16-miles from Belcourt, has an average income of $15,756 and is considered to be 32% below the poverty level.


Rolette (Population: 411) 16-miles from Belcourt,  has an average income of $18,14 and is considered to be 13.4% below the poverty level.


Unemployment on the Reservation is estimated to be at 69.25 % according to the 2010 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Labor Force Statistics.  According to the 2010 Census, over 40% of Tribal families were living below the poverty level, and 882 households were headed by single mothers struggling to raise 1,392 children under the age of 18.



What makes up the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribal government?


The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians consists of a Tribal Council (that includes a Tribal Chairman) and a Tribal Court system. The Tribal Council must meet at least once a month and all its meetings are constitutionally required to be open to the public unless they are discussing protected personnel information or confidential business contracts. The Tribe is supported by Federal funds and by a percentage of profits of the SkyDancer Casino. The tribe also gains revenue from various Tribal programs that charge fees and interest from treaty funds.


How does the tribal government make laws?


The Tribal Council passes resolutions that require the Chairman’s signature in order to become valid, much like the US Congress passes bills that require the President’s signature to become law. The Chairman can veto what the Council passes, but the Council can, after 30 days, pass the resolution.


Did the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa have chiefs?


Yes, prior to 1932 band leaders held the title of “Chief.” One of the last persons to hold the title of “Chief” was Chief Kakenowash, and prior to him three hereditary Chiefs by the name of Little Shell represented the band, along with two hereditary Chiefs named Red Bear. Though others were referred to as “Chiefs”, none were recognized as official.


How has the traditional government changed?


In 1891, a committee of sixteen mixed bloods and sixteen full bloods, called the Committee of 32, replaced the traditional Grand Council of 24 members under the hereditary leadership of Chief Little Shell.

Bureau of Indian Affairs


The Turtle Mountain Tribe has existed as an autonomous government within the United States because early treaties recognized the Band’s sovereignty. The United States government promised “health, education, and welfare” in exchange for aboriginal lands. This unique relationship gives rise to several institutions that manage these services including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Heath Service. These institutions are the major employers on the reservation, with over 600 teachers, nurses, bus drivers, mechanics, road workers, janitors, cooks, policemen and others.


The United States Department of Interior funds the Bureau of Indian Affairs to manage the trust assets of the nation’s over 500 tribes. There are 12 Area Offices nationwide, responsible for recording, collecting and investing revenue generated by tribal treaties, lands and minerals. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has an Area Office at Aberdeen South Dakota, which serves the entire area of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and parts of Minnesota. Link


In the Great Plains Region, the Turtle Mountain Agency is responsible for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.



Tribal Chairman

 - Wayne Keplin


Vice Chair

 - Roman Marcellais- District 3 Rep


Secretary Treasurer

 - Alice Lunday -District 1 Rep


District 1

 - Jamie Azure


District 2

 - Lynn Gourneau
 - Stuart LaFountain


District 3

 - Don Keplin


District 4

  - Chad Counts
  - Tyrrell DeCoteau



Membership in the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa requires a one-quarterblood quantum of Indian blood. (This is due to federal law and not the beliefs or traditions of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.)


The enrollment office of the Turtle Mountain Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Belcourt, ND, maintains the enrollment rolls for the tribe and is responsible for providing documentation of one’s enrollment and for issuing Indian tribal membership identification cards.


For more information about enrollment, contact the BIA Enrollment Office at 701-477-6141.

Cultural Overview

Historical Overview


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Complete Historical Overview






Move to the Plains




Early Reservation Life


Plains Life




Trenton Indian Service Area

Read More


Cultural Introduction


Woodland Ways of Living


Ways of Believing


Lifeways on the Plains


Culture In Transition


Impact of Reservations


Annual Social Events



Other Ojibwa Ethnonyms


Ojibwe People



The Ojibwe Creation Story


The Birth of Nanabozhoo



The reservation was established by Executive Orders of December 21, 1882, and March 29, 1884 on an area of 72,000 acres of land. This initial land base proved to be inadequate for the population of the reservation. In order to meet the land needs of the people, additional land was allotted in western North Dakota and Montana, known as the Trenton Indian Service Area.



The Peoples Name


The Chippewa proudly referred to themselves as Anishinabe meaning “THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE.”  The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa are primarily members of the Pembina Band of Chippewa.  Descendence may include intermarriage with other Chippewa bands, Cree, and other nations who make up the membership of the Turtle Mountain Band.


The name Chippewa, a mispronunciation of Ojibwa, Ojibway, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, and Anishinabe are all names that refer to the same group of people.  The word “Ojibwa” refers to “something puckered up.”  One theory is that it comes from the way in which the people made their moccasins.  For the purpose of this document, the term “Ojibway” is used in this guide when referring to the tribes’ early history.  The term “Chippewa” is used, after European contact.


The Ojibway are members of the Algonquin language group, which are located from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, and from Hudson Bay to North Carolina.   Other tribes in this language group are the Cree, Ottawa, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee, Delaware, Cheyenne, Blackfeet, and the Arapaho.  Scholars have established this classification by language, but this does not mean that the tribes were closely related or that they were allies.



The Cultures of Native Americans on this continent have had an impact on America. Some aspects of the lifeways and cultures of native peoples have been adapted by the contemporary American Society. Native peoples contributed foods, medicines, and languages to the Europeans with whom they came into contact. Pumpkins, squash, wild rice, and pemmican are examples of food which were introduced by Native Americans. Animal names such as chipmunk, muskrat, raccoon, and caribou are all Algonquin in origin adopted by American society.  Many lakes, rivers, mountains, and states have Native American names.


Traditionally, the Chippewa people were primarily a hunting and gathering society.  They hunted various animals for food and clothing.  They gathered berries, nuts, roots, vegetables, fruits, and wild rice for food and medicinal purposes.  The Chippewa have a legend about mun-dam-in (Corn), which indicates that they were sedentary to a degree.  They coexisted in harmony with nature and had a special relationship to animals evident in the structure of tribal society, which centered on the clan system.  Animals symbolize each clan.  Their legends describe nature’s phenomena.


There are many factors that facilitated the transition and evolution of the Turtle Mountain people into the unique culture that exists today.  The transition from woodlands to plains people vastly influenced the culture of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa.  Food, transportation, clothing, and housing were all adapted to meet the needs of the people and the tribe.  In addition, the blending of other cultures greatly impacted their language and life ways from social structure and language, to customs and dance.

Census & Population Stats

Employment Information



Stats Overview