GeoCarta Has Moved

Nov 27, 2005

Dueling Geographers May Decide Title To Disputed Island

An Oklahoma Indian tribe argues that geographic references in one hundred-year-old treaties give them title to a 677-acre Lake Erie island worth millions of dollars. The attorney for the Ottawa Tribe retained a geography professor to plot the U.S.-Canadian border through Lake Erie in the early 1800s.

Dr. Ute Dymon, a Kent State geography professor and cartographer says that by combining descriptions from the Fort Industry treaty in 1805 and the Treaty of Detroit of 1807 she has been able to plot the international border as it existed in the early 1800's. According to Dr. Dymon's research, this line placed North Bass Island in the hands of the British. By the terms of the 1805 treaty, the Ottawa and other tribes relinquished their lands to the United States. However, the tribe argues that since the island was not part of the U.S. at the time, that treaty did not affect North Bass Island.

The Toledo Blade explains further:

The Ottawa, however, now maintain that North Bass Island, also known as the Isle of St. George, was on the British side of the U.S.-Canadian border at the time of the 1805 treaty and was not affected by it.

The tribe claims it retained its rights when the U.S.-Canadian border was redrawn in 1822 with North Bass clearly south of the line.

Not surprisingly, having recently paid $17.4 million for 87% of the disputed island, the State of Ohio disputes the tribe's claim and suggests that the tribe has another motive. The Blade quotes Mark Anthony, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General as saying, "Their claim is unfounded and unreasonable, which we will prove in court with the help of expert testimony. We suspect their claim is a shakedown ploy to bring casino gambling here, which a majority of Ohioans have twice rejected."

The trial may well come down to a duel of expert witnesses as not all geographers accept the tribe's claim. The Toldeo Blade quotes Morton E. O'Kelly, chairman of the department of geography at Ohio State University as drawing a different conclusion than the Ottawa Tribe:
"Based on a review of early maps, my experience and expertise as a geographer, and a careful examination of the proposed construction of the Land Claim, I conclude, and it is my opinion, that the island referred to as North Bass Island was not at any time divided by the international boundary and has always been considered part of the United States," he said.