Activists claim they are protecting treaty rights, land by tapping maple trees in Buena Vista State Forest
A group of activists is asserting their interpretation of treaty rights to tap maple trees in the Buena Vista State Forest near Bemidji, just outside Leech Lake Nation boundaries.
BEMIDJI — A group of local activists are asserting their interpretation of treaty rights to tap maple trees in the Buena Vista State Forest near Bemidji.
At least a dozen people, associated with climate advocacy group MN350, are currently collecting maple sap in the forest 12 miles east of Bemidji, just outside of Leech Lake Nation’s boundaries, stating they are asserting their rights on the 1855 Treaty territory.
Leech Lake, White Earth, Sandy Lake, and Mille Lacs Bands and the U.S. Government are parties to the 1855 Treaty.
Alongside collecting sap, the group says they are working to retain treaty rights and obligations, such as hunting and gathering, while also protecting around 600 acres of wilderness owned by the state of Minnesota.
They say the action will continue until the sale of timber is stopped.
“We are doing everything we can to protect about 600 acres of mature maples that are going to be logged off, while also raising awareness and educating the state of Minnesota and law enforcement about treaty rights,” said Nancy Beaulieu, one of the group’s leads.
The group also emphasized that their actions are not a protest, but an act of community building.
“We are not here to protest. Our goal is to build a community to preserve and revitalize our spiritual knowledge and reclaim the language, culture and lifeways of the Anishinaabeg,” Beaulieu added.
The camp is hosted in partnership with Manidoo Ogitigaan and supported by the 1855 Treaty Authority, the Leech Lake Historical Preservation Officer and the Leech Lake's Department of Resource Management, Beaulieu said.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which manages the Buena Vista State Forest, differs in its longstanding interpretation of treaty rights with the group. On March 20 a DNR employee began removing the maple tapping equipment for being done without a permit.
Although the employee initially did not run into anyone from the group, Beaulieu later approached the employee. After being asked for her permit, Beaulieu asserted that she had harvesting rights under the 1855 Treaty.
In a statement released about the incident, the DNR went on to note that after conferring with regional leadership, the employee returned the equipment to the group to allow for further consideration of the issues raised.
“The DNR deeply respects the rights and protections of tribal members under the treaties that govern reservation lands and ceded territories,” the statement read. “The DNR is evaluating (Beaulieus’) claims regarding her ability to tap maple trees off-reservation within the 1855 Treaty area without a state permit.”