Who Really Needs Treaty Rights in 1997?

Vincent Hill, Sr.

President Mille Lacs Anishinabe People's Party (MAPP)

In the Fall 1996 issue of Woodland Voice, a publication of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Don Wedll, the Mille Lacs Band's Commissioner of Natural Resources, and Marge Anderson, Chief Executive, write glowingly about their work on the 1837 Treaty lawsuit. I take issue with the assertion that they are doing a good job.

First of all, I do not see the Mille Lacs Ojibwe tribal government as having the financial wherewithal, nor the technical expertise and manpower, to regulate and manage a natural resource code for its own band members, and possibly to include non-band members, within the vast 1837 ceded territory. The state's enforcement of conservation regulations is more than sufficient as it is.

My second point is that casino profits are providing millions of dollars being used to finance the Mille Lacs tribal government's hunting and fishing lawsuit against the State of Minnesota, area counties and landowners. Mille Lacs tribal members have not been allowed to vote, or even been asked, how gambling proceeds should be utilized. In other words, Mille Lacs tribal members have not given their consent to finance this expensive treaty lawsuit, which the band brought against the State. There is every indication that tribal members would disapprove such use of casino gambling profits because it robs them of their fair share of casino gambling profits. If Band members were given their fair share of those profits, the already weak claim that we need to hunt and fish for subsistence would be even more ridiculous.

A third point is that Mille Lacs' urban tribal members do not appear to care one way or the other what will be the final outcome of this expensive and protracted court battle over fish and game. Urban members represent half of the total 2,600 members of the Mille Lacs Band. I also know of no Mille Lacs member on the reservation who is being denied survival by currently having to abide by State conservation regulations in the ceded territory, off the reservation. I don't see that any band member has a need or desire to harvest more fish and game off the reservation than the State currently allows for all Minnesotans. Keep in mind that the tribal government already implements its own codes within reservation boundaries. My question is, who really needs or wants this lawsuit? Perhaps Don Wedll's livelihood depends on it, but nobody else's.

Which brings up my fourth point. Why is Marge Anderson more interested in what Don Wedll, a white man, has to say about treaty rights than her own tribal members?

And finally, I think the Mille Lacs Band should consider dropping this expensive lawsuit that few, if any, rank-and-file Band members want, and instead look at discussing with the State officials how to keep our environment clean, unpolluted, and available for all of us to enjoy and benefit from. Traditional wild rice harvesting, and gathering of berries, nuts, and medicinal herbs could easily be guaranteed to Band members without a contentious lawsuit. These are the things Mille Lacs tribal members I talk to are most interested in. I don't know who Marge Anderson and Don Wedll are talking to.