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DNR issues citations to tribal members in treaty protest

NISSWA, Minn. -- Two men face possible gross misdemeanor charges of taking fish by an illegal method after they set a gill net in Hole-in-the-Day Bay of Gull Lake in Nisswa Friday. Todd Thompson of the White Earth Reservation north of Detroit Lakes and Jim Northrup III of the Fond du Lac Reservation east of Cloquet set the net shortly before 11 a.m.

Across the highway on Hole-in-the-Day Lake, Harvey and Morningstar GoodSky of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe were each cited by the DNR for harvesting wild rice without a license. Frank Bibeau, a spokesperson for the 1855 Treaty Authority group, said the officers also seized about half of the harvested rice but none of the equipment.

The citations came a day after the DNR issued the group a one-day harvesting permit for its planned action Thursday under a rule allowing permits for educational purposes. DNR officials stated the permit was issued in an effort to de-escalate the situation while acknowledging the group's desire to honor Chief Hole-in-the-Day's memory and bring attention to clean water issues.

Col. Ken Soring, director of enforcement with the DNR, said Friday the message was one the agency could get behind, although he said it was made clear law enforcement would resume after 24 hours.

"It was a very supportable position for the DNR to permit that event," Soring said. "We clearly communicated it was a one-day permit, and after that we would be resuming normal law enforcement like we do with all people."

Despite the citations issued, Bibeau said he was pleased the event remained peaceful. He noted traffic passing by the group generally acted in safe manner and people watched out for one another. Bibeau said the group was issued a permit from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to occupy the right-of-way on Highway 371 for both Thursday and Friday.

Bibeau was also happy the conservation officers returned the gill net to its owners. He said in past netting enforcement cases, the property has not always been returned.

"I think it's just a matter of a little more time, and maybe we can have this all agreed to without any real adversarial relationships developing any further than they have been," Bibeau said. "We should still be mending things, really, you know. There's some bad history but we all need to go forward."

John Plumer, an attorney for the group, said the message they hope people take away from the actions is successors to the treaty signers have off-reservation gathering rights they hope will be recognized by state law.

"What we would hope is, bottom line, that the state of Minnesota, the governor, will sit down at the table and talk with us," Plumer said. "How can we co-manage these off-reservation areas so they remain clean and continue to produce the resources - the rice and fish. ... We would prefer to sit down across the table and talk like adults on these issues instead of digging our heels in and getting involved in an adversarial, drawn-out lawsuit."

Plumer said the group's position on off-reservation hunting, fishing and gathering rights is rooted in the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established those rights on Mille Lacs Lake. In that case, the state was ordered to pay the Mille Lacs Band and six other bands nearly $4 million in legal fees following the decision.

"We don't need to see that again, and we realize that's a burden," Plumer said. "We're willing to talk civilly."

Dale Greene, a board member of the group also known as Be don ah Kwaad, said for Native peoples the meaning goes much deeper than state recognition of tribal rights.

"We believe our creation stories and that we all have a right to those God-given gifts of food, whether it's the fish or the wild rice or the clear, clean drinking water," Greene said.

Greene said co-managing the resources with the state will help to preserve important aspects of Native culture that are also important to many other people.

"For the non-Indians who enjoy the clear pristine water, that's our goal also, is to preserve what's already here for the generations coming after us," Greene said. "Not only for the Indian people but for the people that come out here and want to catch the fish, enjoy the solitude or the greatness of the great outdoors, the wilderness. ...

"We can't undo time, but we can understand going forward that we all have those natural desires to have safe clean drinking water that feed the plants, the earth, and more importantly the people. Even the sports fishermen, who want to make sure that those resources are protected, so they get their share of enjoyment out of it."

Greene said in the "simple pursuit of food," the group is combatting many other things, including cultural loss and the negative impacts that has on people.

"I could go on and on and on of the importance of these cultural practices and the languages. ... When we're not having these spiritual and cultural activities that we're having here today on both sides of the highway it becomes a loss. Like most losses there's a void, and other things, like self medicating, drugs and alcohol, erupt," Greene said. "By our exercising that right in acquiring food, we're drawing a line in the sand that we're going to protect the water and we're going to protect the resources and we're going to share those. But we already do."