Planned meeting between tribe, DNR canceledby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Bemidji, Minn. — Officials with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe have canceled a meeting planned for Tuesday morning with the head of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Archie LaRose said a meeting with DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten would be "premature."
"We need to meet with Minnesota Chippewa Tribe leaders first this week, and our tribal members here, before meeting and discussing any agreement we might make with the state," LaRose said in a written statement.
LaRose sent Holsten a copy of a treaty rights research paper written by Peter Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
"I believe this paper accurately reflects the correct legal analysis supporting off-reservation rights to hunt, fish and gather for tribal members in the 1855 ceded territory," LaRose wrote to the commissioner. "I do hope we can work together for a diplomatic solution for Minnesota's recognition of our rights."
The Leech Lake and White Earth bands of Ojibwe have long believed that hunting, fishing and gathering rights throughout much of northern Minnesota are guaranteed in the treaties of 1854 and 1855 with the U.S. government. The bands have been meeting for months to develop a strategy for how to reassert those rights.
Members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe made similar treaty rights claims in the 1990s. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mille Lacs.
LaRose said many northern tribal members are unemployed or live on low incomes. He said they would benefit from exercising their rights to access the fish and wildlife resources around them as the treaties guarantee.
"These are the people's rights," LaRose said. "Too often, too 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."
The Leech Lake and White Earth bands are interested in working with the state to co-manage natural resources located within ceded territory outlined in the 1855 treaty. The bands have drafted an off reservation fishing code that will be presented to the tribal councils on both reservations for adoption.
Last week, an attorney from Leech Lake's legal department talked with media about plans to have tribal members challenge state law by fishing on the shore of Lake Bemidji on the day before the state's walleye season opener on May 15. Leaders from White Earth and Leech Lake later backed away from that idea in favor of resolving the treaty issue through diplomacy.
It appears likely at least some Ojibwe tribal members still plan to exercise their treaty-based right to fish before the opener on lakes in northern Minnesota.
Members of a joint committee on the 1855 treaty will meet at White Earth's Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen May 6. LaRose will hold a public meeting for Leech Lake band members on May 7.