By Charlie Rutkowski

March 5, 2019

Tribal Transit in Wisconsin and Minnesota

This year, two of CTAA’s Tribal Technical Assistance Projects are with the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s, also in Wisconsin. In February, I travelled to the Badger State to facilitate stakeholder workshops with each of the Tribes to help identify unmet mobility needs among tribal members. Midwinter activities in the Upper Midwest are always at the mercy of the weather, and the February 12th meeting with St. Croix Tribal officials was not an exception. A snowstorm closed schools and local government offices, and the meeting was limited to Tribal Planning staff. I discussed plans for collection of data on existing transportation resources as well as strategies for additional community engagement with Melanie Connor Johnson of the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation. CTAA staff will be returning to the St. Croix Reservation in the next two months for individual meetings with tribal representatives. A primary goal of the technical assistance project is to establish public transit services on tribal members.

stcroix_225 redcliff

On Feb. 21, the weather did not interfere with a Mobility Visioning Workshop with Red Cliff Tribal officials in Bayfield, Wisconsin. The Red Cliff Reservation is located on the south shore of Lake Superior, near the northern end of the Bayfield Peninsula. During the Workshop, eighteen participants identified and discussed unmet mobility needs, and possible strategies and services to meet these needs. Unlike the St. Croix Tribe, the Red Cliff Band operates a transit program that provides demand responsive service throughout the tribal area. Miskwaabekong (Red Cliff in Chippewa) Transit also provides linkages to the Bay Area Rural Transit (BART) program that operates in the City of Ashland and Bayfield County. BART and Red Cliff have a close working relationship in which all demand responsive scheduling and dispatching is providing by BART. BART also connects with Bad River Transit operated by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. Representatives from all three transit programs participated in the Visioning Workshop: Jeff Benton, the Red Lake Transportation Director, Patrick Daoust, BART Manager, and Lloyd Hartwell, Bad River Transit’s Manager.

During my travels to Wisconsin, I also visited with the Bois Forte Tribe in Nett Lake, Minnesota. The Tribe operates the Big Woods Transit service that grew out of a CTAA Technical Assistance project in 2011. The Tribe’s administrative facilities are located in Nett Lake, while the Tribe’s Fortune Bay Resort and Casino are located on Lake Vermillion near Tower, Minnesota approximately one hour from Nett Lake. Tribal members live near Nett Lake as well as in other communities scattered throughout the region. The Fortune Bay Resort and Casino is the largest employer among tribal members. Big Woods Transit accommodates many of the work trips to the jobs at Fortune Bay. I met with Transit Director Jennie Rowland to review the growth of the program over the past eight years, and to provide guidance on strategies to replace the transit program’s aging buses.


The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.