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Leech Lake seeks resource management

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news Bemidji, 56619
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Leech Lake and White Earth Ojibwe bands want to co-manage all northern Minnesota resources with the state of Minnesota, asserting treaty rights allowing that.

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That goal became clear Monday in a letter from Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Archie LaRose to state Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten to call off a hastily arranged meeting which would have been this morning in St. Paul.

The meeting was set in reaction to a statement last week that tribal members planned to assert their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather by illegally fishing on Lake Bemidji May 14, the day before the official walleye season opener.

Tribal leaders, however, later urged that there be no protest, that tribal officials were working for a diplomatic solution. Both Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Holsten were unaware of the desire to exercise treaty rights, thus today's meeting.

"I regret that a tribal member attending our ongoing 1855 (treaty) meetings went to the press before you or Governor Pawlenty were provided this notice," LaRose wrote Holsten. "Our legal director anticipated to get in front of the story but could only clarify potential objectives and outcomes of the 1855 meetings that had not yet been presented to the Leech Lake RBC (Reservation Business Committee)."

The ongoing meetings have been held to discuss what the bands should do to exercise rights under an 1855 treaty that provides the right to hunt, fish and gather, and have been working in concert with the White Earth Band as both bands are in the 1855 territory.

LaRose, Leech Lake District Rep. "Ribs" Whitebird and White Earth officials have been holding 1855 Ceded Territory Rights Committee meetings for months, a Leech Lake Tribal Council statement said Monday.

The meetings are for "development of the options and strategies for Minnesota's recognition of 1855 Ceded Territory hunting and fishing rights - just like those in the 1854 Ceded Territory and Tri-Band agreement with other MCT bands," the statement said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in that case, ordering co-management of Lake Mille Lacs, the state's premier walleye fishery.

"These are the People's Rights," LaRose said in the statement. "Too often many people are living in poverty and they could live healthier and earn a modest living with more resources available to them.

"Members of my family hunt, trap, fish, gather wild rice and medicines and make maple sugar - these traditions are important parts of our culture," LaRose said.

"I know that tribal members are very interested in co-management of ceded territory resources and that an 1855 off-reservation fishing code has been drafted and nearly ready for presentation to Leech Lake and White Earth reservations to consider adopting," LaRose wrote to Holsten.

This week, all six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe will hold their quarterly meeting and LaRose said he wants to gain input. "My plan is to meet face-to-face with White Earth elected leaders to develop our joint approach for our meeting with you," LaRose stated.

He added that it would be "premature" to meet today on the issue.

"As tribal chairman, we want to be good neighbors and continue to build on the positive relationships we already have with local governments: tribal, county and state," LaRose stated.

He included a copy of a research paper written by American Indian legal issues attorney Peter Erlinder, William Mitchell College of Law, on the exercise of off-reservation usufructuary treaty rights in all of northern Minnesota. He requested that the Pawlenty administration submitt a written response to the research.

"In Minnesota, on-reservation tribal sovereignty has been recognized with respect to functions similar to state government civil functions, such as the regulation of gaming, auto registration, traffic regulations, sale of tobacco and other state-regulated commodities, on-reservation enforcement of tribal conservation regulations, and state court enforcement of tribal civil judgments," Erlinder writes in the introduction to the report.

"However, the recognition of off-reservation hunting, fishing and gathering usufrucuary rights have not kept pace with the development of on-reservation tribal civil regulatory sovereignty issues," he wrote.

Erlinder proffers that the most important way to recognize off-reservation rights "in all of northern Minnesota will be recovery of the political and economic sovereignty rightfully do the Anishinabe Nation in areas of Minnesota ceded to the United States in the 19th century, which the state of Minnesota has failed to honor during most of the 20th century."

The paper "accurately reflects the correct legal analysis supporting off-reservation rights to hunt, fish and gather for tribal members in the 1855 Ceded Territory," the statement says.

"The governor states his position in the news last week, so we need to see a response from DNR to Erlinder's paper so we have the issues we need to resolve identified ahead of time, so we can talk about the problems," Whitebird said.

Tribal members have been seeking to exercise the treaty rights for years, the statement said.

"It's not about the money," LaRose said. "It's about recognizing our rights as tribal members so I have asked Commissioner Holsten to wait on meeting until we first meet with MCT tribal leaders and get a written response to Erlinder's paper."

The 1855 Committee next meets May 6 at Mahnomen, and LaRose said he wants a Leech Lake public hearing on May 7.

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Pioneer staff reports
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