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UPDATED: Red Lake Council votes to allow fishing on lakes after fishermen go missing

Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, center, opens a meeting on Wednesday for tribal members to comment on whether fishing should be permitted on Lower Red Lake and Upper Red Lake. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Bill Brunelle, Director of Public Safety for Red Lake, speaks to the crowd during the meeting held Wednesday at Seven Clans Casino. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

RED LAKE -- The Red Lake Tribal Council voted Wednesday to allow fishing on both Upper and Lower Red Lake, nearly two months after two fishermen disappeared there.

The vote followed an hour-and-a-half meeting, during which tribal members, law enforcement personnel, Red Lake fisheries staff and others were invited to weigh in on whether fishing at the site of the anglers’ disappearance should be permitted while the pair remain missing.

“It’s very critical that we decide in a good manner,” Chairman Darrell Seki said at the start of the meeting. “It’s very difficult to make a decision without the input of you as tribal members, because we have two loved ones that are still out there somewhere.”

The two fishermen, identified as 29-year-old Deland Beaulieu and a 17-year-old boy, vanished on Nov. 6, when their Red Lake Fisheries boat capsized on Lower Red Lake. The third man on the boat, 32-year-old Dominick Johnson, was able to swim to shore and survived.

Red Lake law enforcement and community members, along with agencies from Leech Lake, Stutsman County (N.D.), Fargo, St. Louis County and Beltrami County have helped search areas of the lake since Beaulieu and the boy went missing. On Nov. 30, the Red Lake Department of Public Safety announced that crews using underwater remote-operated vehicle found footprints and a boot they thought belonged to one of the fishermen, but have not found the pair.

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Director of Public Safety Bill Brunelle said that, starting about two weeks ago, his department had fielded calls from community members wondering whether the lake was closed to anglers.

No official decision had been made by law enforcement, Brunelle said, so he met with members of the tribal council, the Red Lake Fishery Board and family members of the missing fishermen. According to Seki, most of the family members supported opening the lake to fishing and hoped it would lead to Beaulieu and the 17-year-old. Most speakers also wanted to open the lake, and two informal polls taken during the meeting showed that most attendees were in favor.

“I know this is the decision of the community and the decision of the council, the fishermen, but I actually agree with a lot of people,” Brunelle said. “The more people that we get out there, the better chance we have of finding these boys, because right now they’re not where we thought they would be.”

But multiple speakers also expressed concern over the way the tribe uses the lake.

Red Lake firefighter Angelo Hart said that his grandparents told him that when their generation lost someone to the lake, they would have a feast to feed it.

“We're gonna find these guys, I know we will, but we need to have a feast for this lake, we need to feed the lake,” Hart said. “We need to start respecting the lake more. The lake is alive and it's telling us things.”

Though two council members -- Robert Smith and Treasurer Annette Johnson voted against allowing fishing before the anglers are found, the rest of the council voted in favor of a resolution to open fishing. At the close of the meeting, Seki said only adults are allowed on the lake, in case bodies are found.

“Remember fishermen, before you go out there, do a prayer,” Seki said. “Do an offering to the lake.”

UPDATE:

Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki issued a statement Thursday, reminding area anglers that fishing on reservation lakes is reserved for band members only.

The news release, posted on the Red Lake Tribal Council Facebook page, addressed a resolution passed by the council on Wednesday opening fishing on Upper and Lower Red Lake, two months after two fishermen disappeared there.

After the resolution was passed, the tribe received inquiries from non-members about fishing on the lakes.

“The Tribal Council’s recent resolution did not expand the individuals who are permitted to fish the water of Red Lake Reservation beyond Red Lake tribal members,” the release said.

The Red Lake Reservation is a closed reservation and the tribal council controls all activities on reservation land and waters. A small portion of Upper Red Lake is located outside the boundaries of the reservation; non-members may fish there.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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