Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement
Roger Aitken, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe business director, urges Leech Lake Tribal Council members to enforce already recognized treaty rights before pursuing fishing, hunting, gathering and travel rights of the 1855 Treaty. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Anishinaabe treaty rights: Leech Lake Band holds public information gathering

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

CASS LAKE -- Leech Lake and White Earth bands of Ojibwe ceded land in an 1855 treaty with the United States government, but they did not give up their rights to fish, hunt, gather or travel in the ceded lands - that belief is the crux of a grassroots movement gaining momentum among members of both bands.

Advertisement
Advertisement

About 150 people gathered Friday at the Palace Bingo Hall for a meeting to discuss their positions on affirming these rights and their methods for going ahead with their claims. In a meeting that consumed more than four hours, Leech Lake and White Earth band members aired details of treaty law, history, culture and their experiences of harassment by Minnesota law enforcement personnel.

"The real simple thing is if it's not given up in the treaty, it's retained by the people," said Dale Green, a member of the Leech Lake Legal Department.

"There's nothing in '55 that said we gave up our hunting, fishing and gathering," said Leech Lake Tribal Attorney Frank Bibeau. "There's nothing in there that says any rights were taken away, and if they're not taken, they're still ours."

He added that the bands ceded property rights to the government, but not occupancy rights. The difference, he said, is that occupancy rights retain fishing, hunting, gathering and free travel.

Originally, the 1855 Treaty Rights organizers planned to hold "The Great Anishinaabe Fish Off (Reservation)" as a protest at the Lake Bemidji waterfront May 14, the day before the Minnesota fishing opener, in violation of state law.

However, the White Earth and Leech Lake tribal council members discouraged the demonstration, saying they wanted to use diplomacy and negotiation to affirm the 1855 Treat Rights.

"The band governments are asking people not to go out," said Bibeau. "Right now, we're trying to do this in a civil, diplomatic way."

Following a Thursday meeting at the White Earth Nation, the bands' leaders decided to hold an 1855 Treaty Rights public information presentation (and brat feed) from 1-3 p.m. May 14 at Bemidji's Diamond Point Park Pavilion.

At the same time, those who had planned the Fish Off will hold a "Stop Treaty Rights Abuse" rally at the waterfront park.

"But if we have members who choose to exercise their rights on that day, we have attorneys and trained peacekeepers on hand to make sure everyone is respected," said Robert Shimek of the White Earth Lake Recovery Project, and Fish Off organizer. "We want to provide as safe a venue as we can."

Friday's Leech Lake meeting was opened with prayer by elder Sandy Gotchie and moderated by Leech Lake Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose. White Earth Tribal Council Representative Terry Tibbetts spoke for his band. Leech Lake representatives Eugene "Ribs" Whitebird and Robbie Howe and Secretary-Treasurer Michael Bongo also made their positions clear on the subject.

"This has been a long time coming," said Whitebird. "This should have been done 100 years ago. As a Tribal Council member, I support everyone who's going to be out exercising their rights."

When asked by a band member what kind of minnows he would be using, Whitebird said he intended simply to watch the protest.

Howe said band members need more education on the treaties and asked Bibeau to put together materials so people could become more knowledgeable.

Bongo said he recognizes treaty rights are an emotional issue for everyone, but he wants to make sure the bands are prepared before taking action. He said the bands must look at what they have to gain and what they have to lose in the potential conflict.

"This is a process that's not going to happen overnight," Bongo said.

LaRose cited the three area bands that affirmed their treaty rights on ceded land in a 1989 ruling - Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage - and Mille Lacs, which asserted similar treaty rights in a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

"We haven't kept pace with the other four bands," LaRose said. "That is why we're here today."

Roger Aitken, Leech Lake business director, argued against pursuing the 1855 Treaty Rights at this time with three points he sees the band as lacking: a strong, stable Tribal Council; a legal department capable of putting together a case with expert witnesses and historians; and large amounts of money to spend in litigation.

Bongo said Mille Lacs spent about $15 million on the 1999 legal action, which would translate into something like $20 million now.

Aitken recommended the band concentrate on enforcing currently recognized treaty rights on fishing and taxation issues, such as cigarette and utility tax exemptions. He also said the band should be working with the U.S. Forest Service on co-management of Chippewa Nation Forest resources.

Audrey Thayer, ACLU Racial Justice Project representative in Bemidji and a White Earth enrolled member, said her agency would legally represent anyone arrested during the Fish Off pro bono. She said the ACLU has also notified the Department of Natural Resources that arrests should take place as required by Minnesota law. The idea, she said, is to take at least one case through the court system.

Bibeau said the object of the 1855 Treaty Rights Commission, which includes members of White Earth, Leech Lake and Sandy Lake bands, is to argue that these bands should have been included in the 1999 Mille Lacs Supreme Court ruling.

"Because we weren't parties, we weren't named for any relief," he said.

Many of the attendees who spoke expressed urgency in pursuing the 1855 Treaty Rights issues. Many also maintained that the rights are held individually and that the Tribal Council can't dictate what they do May 14 or any other day.

"I go fish whenever I like it," said Gotchie, expressing a popular sentiment. "As far as Bemidji, why wait until the 14th?"

But tribal officials urged caution and patience, noting that any remedy, either negotiated or in the courts, would take years to accomplish.

"It's like we're on a thousand-mile journey, and we've only taken one or two steps," said Green.

LaRose said a further public forum will be called for a date in mid-June to enhance band members' knowledge and allow more input on treaty rights.

Y mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

CASS LAKE -- Leech Lake and White Earth bands of Ojibwe ceded land in an 1855 treaty with the United States government, but they did not give up their rights to fish, hunt, gather or travel in the ceded lands - that belief is the crux of a grassroots movement gaining momentum among members of both bands.

About 150 people gathered Friday at the Palace Bingo Hall for a meeting to discuss their positions on affirming these rights and their methods for going ahead with their claims. In a meeting that consumed more than four hours, Leech Lake and White Earth band members aired details of treaty law, history, culture and their experiences of harassment by Minnesota law enforcement personnel.

"The real simple thing is if it's not given up in the treaty, it's retained by the people," said Dale Green, a member of the Leech Lake Legal Department.

"There's nothing in '55 that said we gave up our hunting, fishing and gathering," said Leech Lake Tribal Attorney Frank Bibeau. "There's nothing in there that says any rights were taken away, and if they're not taken, they're still ours."

He added that the bands ceded property rights to the government, but not occupancy rights. The difference, he said, is that occupancy rights retain fishing, hunting, gathering and free travel.

Originally, the 1855 Treaty Rights organizers planned to hold "The Great Anishinaabe Fish Off (Reservation)" as a protest at the Lake Bemidji waterfront May 14, the day before the Minnesota fishing opener, in violation of state law.

However, the White Earth and Leech Lake tribal council members discouraged the demonstration, saying they wanted to use diplomacy and negotiation to affirm the 1855 Treat Rights.

"The band governments are asking people not to go out," said Bibeau. "Right now, we're trying to do this in a civil, diplomatic way."

Following a Thursday meeting at the White Earth Nation, the bands' leaders decided to hold an 1855 Treaty Rights public information presentation (and brat feed) from 1-3 p.m. May 14 at Bemidji's Diamond Point Park Pavilion.

At the same time, those who had planned the Fish Off will hold a "Stop Treaty Rights Abuse" rally at the waterfront park.

"But if we have members who choose to exercise their rights on that day, we have attorneys and trained peacekeepers on hand to make sure everyone is respected," said Robert Shimek of the White Earth Lake Recovery Project, and Fish Off organizer. "We want to provide as safe a venue as we can."

Friday's Leech Lake meeting was opened with prayer by elder Sandy Gotchie and moderated by Leech Lake Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose. White Earth Tribal Council Representative Terry Tibbetts spoke for his band. Leech Lake representatives Eugene "Ribs" Whitebird and Robbie Howe and Secretary-Treasurer Michael Bongo also made their positions clear on the subject.

"This has been a long time coming," said Whitebird. "This should have been done 100 years ago. As a Tribal Council member, I support everyone who's going to be out exercising their rights."

When asked by a band member what kind of minnows he would be using, Whitebird said he intended simply to watch the protest.

Howe said band members need more education on the treaties and asked Bibeau to put together materials so people could become more knowledgeable.

Bongo said he recognizes treaty rights are an emotional issue for everyone, but he wants to make sure the bands are prepared before taking action. He said the bands must look at what they have to gain and what they have to lose in the potential conflict.

"This is a process that's not going to happen overnight," Bongo said.

LaRose cited the three area bands that affirmed their treaty rights on ceded land in a 1989 ruling - Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage - and Mille Lacs, which asserted similar treaty rights in a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

"We haven't kept pace with the other four bands," LaRose said. "That is why we're here today."

Roger Aitken, Leech Lake business director, argued against pursuing the 1855 Treaty Rights at this time with three points he sees the band as lacking: a strong, stable Tribal Council; a legal department capable of putting together a case with expert witnesses and historians; and large amounts of money to spend in litigation.

Bongo said Mille Lacs spent about $15 million on the 1999 legal action, which would translate into something like $20 million now.

Aitken recommended the band concentrate on enforcing currently recognized treaty rights on fishing and taxation issues, such as cigarette and utility tax exemptions. He also said the band should be working with the U.S. Forest Service on co-management of Chippewa Nation Forest resources.

Audrey Thayer, ACLU Racial Justice Project representative in Bemidji and a White Earth enrolled member, said her agency would legally represent anyone arrested during the Fish Off pro bono. She said the ACLU has also notified the Department of Natural Resources that arrests should take place as required by Minnesota law. The idea, she said, is to take at least one case through the court system.

Bibeau said the object of the 1855 Treaty Rights Commission, which includes members of White Earth, Leech Lake and Sandy Lake bands, is to argue that these bands should have been included in the 1999 Mille Lacs Supreme Court ruling.

"Because we weren't parties, we weren't named for any relief," he said.

Many of the attendees who spoke expressed urgency in pursuing the 1855 Treaty Rights issues. Many also maintained that the rights are held individually and that the Tribal Council can't dictate what they do May 14 or any other day.

"I go fish whenever I like it," said Gotchie, expressing a popular sentiment. "As far as Bemidji, why wait until the 14th?"

But tribal officials urged caution and patience, noting that any remedy, either negotiated or in the courts, would take years to accomplish.

"It's like we're on a thousand-mile journey, and we've only taken one or two steps," said Green.

LaRose said a further public forum will be called for a date in mid-June to enhance band members' knowledge and allow more input on treaty rights.

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
randomness