This Day in History (March 24, 1999): Mille Lacs Band Wins Landmark Treaty Rights Case at the U.S. Supreme Court

On this day in history, March 24, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa had the treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands the Band ceded to the U.S. government by the 1837 treaty.

This treaty has particular relevance today. Anihsinaabe bands (called either Ojibwe or Chippewa by early settlers and treaty documents) are resisting the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota based on similar claims to hunting, fishing and gathering rights along the pipeline’s proposed route.

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Defending Treaty Fishing Rights (Again); Augsburg Native Film Series; Buy Native/Think Local Campaign

Treaties — and their implications for Native American hunting and fishing rights — are always a contentious topic. Many people are unaware of treaty language, or chose to ignore it when they clash with their business interests. The latest flare up centers on Ojibwe fishing rights on Lake Mille Lacs and its dwindling walleye population.

In spite of a U.S. Supreme Court decision which holds the Mille Lacs bands hunting and fishing rights, the state of Minnesota set up a process that guaranteed the band would have a weakened voice in the debate over fishing limits.

Last year, the state created a 17-member panel to advise the state on walleye fishing on Mille Lacs. There was a single tribal representative on that panel: Jamie Edwards, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s director of government affairs. Edwards just resigned by letter, according to a story in Minnesota Public Radio. He sited the committee’s disrespect for tribal sovereignty.

The Edwards resignation letter said that the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee, “had devolved into anti-science, anti-treaty-rights forum subsidized by state resources.” It continued:

To say that I am a minority on this committee is an understatement. Rather than representing a diversity of interests and perspectives, the overwhelming majority of [committee] members are persons who own businesses dependent upon walleye fishing. [The committee] does not include conservationists, owners of businesses dependent on other species of fish, representatives of other types of businesses or any of the other myriad stakeholders of Mille Lacs fisheries.

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