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Stop Treaty Abuse Rally: Protesters participate in non-violence responses

Participants in today's Stop Treaty Abuse Rally, set for 1 p.m. at the Lake Bemidji waterfront, hope their protest proceeds peacefully and without negative incidents.

But if they are arrested for fishing out of season or do face harassment, those who attended non-violence training Thursday have learned strategies to deal with such situations.

The rally is designed to bring attention to tribal members' off-reservation fishing, hunting, gathering and travel rights. White Earth and Leech Lake band members believe these rights are guaranteed them in treaties made in 1855 between the bands and the U.S. government in exchange for ceded land.

Skilled and experienced non-violence trainers from the Twin Cities held seminars Thursday in Cass Lake and Bemidji and will resume peace-making training at 11 a.m. today at the Lake Bemidji waterfront, prior to this afternoon's rally.

At the same time, White Earth and Leech Lake tribal officials will hold an informational meeting and barbecue at Diamond Point Park to discuss their responses to the 1855 Treaty Rights issues. Elected members of the two tribal councils have advised the protesters to refrain from fishing before the Minnesota opener Saturday, saying they hope to pursue the treaty rights of fishing, hunting and gathering in the ceded territories through diplomatic channels and negotiations with the state.

Trainers Betsy Raasch-Gilman, who has been working in non-violence training since 1978, along with Isaac Martin and Madeline Gardner, explained what protesters should do if they are ticketed by Department of Natural Resources officers, or if they are confronted by people staging counter-protests or offering harassment.

"We're going to maintain a non-violent discussion during the demonstration," Raasch-Gilman said.

She urged those considering joining the rally to focus on issues. If they are ticketed, the trainers advised potential protesters to show their identification, stop fishing when asked, refrain from touching officers or their accoutrements and recognize they have the right to remain silent.

"You get a citation - you take a ticket," said Robert Shimek, one of the rally organizers.

"We're not expecting arrests, but we thought we ought to touch on that," Raasch-Gilman said.

Shimek said he doesn't know how many protesters to expect today or exactly what direction their demonstration will take. However, he said the important point is for the state to stop abusing Anishinaabe treaty rights.

"There are going to be people angling," he said. "There's a good possibility there are going to be people who set nets. You have to bear in mind a lot of this is symbolic in nature."

Audrey Thayer, director of the Bemidji-based American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice, said there will be observers and peacemakers on hand, as well as legal support if protesters require court appearances. However, she said, ACLU can't take cases for people who have outstanding warrants for previous offenses or child support in arrears.

The training group Thursday practiced role-playing of scenarios in which DNR officers make arrests and harassment occurs.

Those who attended the training expressed various reasons why they might join the rally.

"I'm concerned about the safekeeping of our rights said Giiwedin, of Boy Lake, whose English name is John Green. "I'm here to help protect them. We're not breaking the law. This is their law. I don't see how we can be instigating anything exercising our rights."

"I'm here to educate people on where we come from and who we are," said Sandy Nichols, noting that the fish and animals are sacred food to Ojibwe people. "This is their (Minnesota) law, and I'm willing to get arrested."

"This is all new to me," Elizabeth Sherman said. "But not new as a passion."

She said her people have been asleep for years as to their treaty rights, but are now waking up.

The youngest person attending Thursday's training was Michael Smith, a 10-year-old Leech Lake enrolled member. He said he is considering joining the rally in a symbolic way because he knows the ancestors who signed the treaty were thinking about him and his generation, as well as generations to come.

"It just came up, and I wanted to exercise my treaty rights," Smith said. "I'm going fishing with myself, the creator and all the spirits."