Red Lake boundary investigation challenges tribal claims

Publication of inquiry ignites fierce debate

   PERM’s concern about the angling hazard posed by the boundary on Red Lake is now part of a much larger debate. It was brought on by a letter challenging the Red Lake tribe’s ownership and authority to control Lower Red Lake.

   State conservation officer Greg Spaulding, of Bagley Minn., wrote to Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain about his research regarding control of the lake. He wanted to know if Jourdain was aware of anything that could contradict his findings. 

Go to
to find 28 documents used In Greg Spaulding’s research

   Spaulding cited two Supreme Court cases and the treaty with the Red Lake Band to argue his point. In one, a 1926 U.S. Supreme Court ruling appears to give the state of Minnesota jurisdiction over reservation waters including all of Upper and Lower Red Lakes.

   Spaulding intended to pose the question to Jourdain privately, but Jourdain posted the letter on the Internet. In his posting he called for the DNR to fire Spaulding, charging him with being prejudiced against the Red Lake tribe, and including the label “racist.” He did not include any statements or references that would contradict Spaulding’s research.

   Tribal seizures are often seen as a draconian response to crossings and have created an incentive to explore solutions. In this case Spaulding said he began his questioning of the Lower Red Lake ownership after the Band seized an airplane there in 2002.

   This increasingly public debate raises questions about the legality of the Red Lake boundary and how crossings are handled. It also generates many questions about the concept of tribal sovereignty and the relationship between tribes and other communities.

  For example, if sovereign, why does the state pay for schools, public assistance, health care, and replenishing the walleye in the lake? Why do we allow a sovereign nation’s voting and holding office outside that nation? If not sovereign, shouldn’t they be subject to laws and regulations of the state and U.S. including allowing full access to Red Lake?

 Next Steps

  For many it’s more than being about “a few fish” or “just another lake,” it’s about principle. It is about the fact that a quasi-sovereign entity can be immune from the laws of this country.

   At the same time our political leadership is too often uninformed or lacking the will to challenge the safely vague “quasi-sovereign” explanation for tribal activities

   PERM seeks justice, as well as mutually beneficial relations with our Native American friends—and proper economic resource management.

   PERM Board members have met with Bagley area citizens, and plan to inform the public, legislators, and candidates about this issue. PERM will also explore getting the State to clarify its relationship with the Red Lake Band, making sure the public is informed during the current harvest limits and Red Lake management negotiations.

 Go to to find 28 documents used in Greg Spaulding’s research.