LETTER TO THE EDITOR: It’s time for Minnesota to honor treaties

The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.


A recent article about local activists asserting their treaty rights east of Bemidji within the 1855 treaty territory made it sound like there is disagreement in how to interpret the 1855 Treaty. Activists were “asserting their interpretation of treaty rights;” the Minnesota DNR “differs in its longstanding interpretation of treaty rights with the group.” To be accurate, let’s use the term Anishinaabe, not activists.

The issue in this case is not a matter of “interpretation.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that treaties are “the supreme Law of the Land.” And it is the responsibility of the U.S. government to be accountable to the terms of the treaties it signed with the Anishinaabe.

In this case, the terms are clearly delineated. The Anishinaabe have treaty rights to hunt, fish, gather and practice ceremonies on the lands they ceded to the U.S. government.

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These are called usufructuary rights: the right to use and benefit from a property, while the ownership of which belongs to another person. The 1854 Treaty Authority defines usufructuary rights as “the legally-retained rights of the tribes to continue to sustain themselves by harvesting natural resources on treaty-ceded lands in northeastern Minnesota.”

The treaties of 1837 and 1854 explicitly guarantee those usufructuary rights; the Treaty of 1855 is silent on them. But the 1855 Treaty Authority says since those rights weren’t explicitly revoked, those rights are retained.

The Anishinaabeg and the allies they have invited to the space in the Buena Vista State Forest clearly have the right to be there. The question is not “How do we interpret this treaty?” but instead, “Do we continue the historical tradition of breaking promises, ignoring our treaty obligations and stealing land for the sake of profit, or do we do the right thing and uphold the treaties that we agreed to?”

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Our collective well-being is dependent upon living in balance with the land and with each other. Our treaties lay out a path to achieve that.

It’s time for Minnesota to honor the treaties.

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