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Pioneer Editorial: Saturday's the day we wait to fish

The start of the Great Minnesota Tourism Season opens Saturday with the traditional Minnesota walleye fishing opener. We welcome our visitors to the Bemidji area who will try their luck on area lakes, and it looks like the weather will cooperate with warmer temperatures and clear skies.

Today, however, another event takes place. In an effort to publicize efforts about off-reservation treaty rights, a group of American Indians plan to openly fish Lake Bemidji today, an illegal action according to Minnesota law. At the same time, informational meetings will take place at Diamond Point Park.

We don't believe such demonstrations will do well for racial relations; in fact, they might reverse the clock from the hard-fought progress we've made. The action is not sanctioned by elected tribal leaders, who have asked participating tribal members to stand down.

The demonstration is over the exercising of treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather under an 1855 treaty. In reality, the treaty does not speak to hunting, fishing or gathering rights and so is different from other landmark cases, such as Mille Lacs, which supports those treaty rights. The facts of the 1855 treaty are clouded at best, and should be pushed in court, not on Lake Bemidji.

But the public at large probably does not understand the reasoning behind the demonstrations, nor the need to exercise those rights now which they already have plentiful access to on reservation lands, and will instead jump to other conclusions that don't bode well for racial harmony.

First, we hope there is no blatant effort to break the law, that the issue needs to be debated, negotiated and, if necessary, brought to court. Second, if people are fishing illegally today, they should be immediately pulled off the lake and cited for the act, and let the day resume without threats, taunts or violence on anyone's part.

The walleye fishing opener is important to northern Minnesota, and our area, and we want the legal opener Saturday to be a welcome, fun, family activity for all races, unencumbered by activities of the day before.