From the Chairman
MILLE LACS TREATY CASE
PERM Carries Issues To U.S. Supreme Court!
Proper Economic Resource Management (PERM), is a non-profit conservation club supporting the Landowners in the Mille Lacs 1837 Treaty Lawsuit. Mark Rotz, PERM Chairman, attended oral arguments in the case before the United States Supreme Court on December 2, 1998.
The Landowners asked the Supreme Court for oral argument because: (1) their interests were not necessarily the same as the State of Minnesota; (2) as the beneficiaries of the land acquisition in the treaties by the U.S. and the Chippewa, the Landowners are in a unique position to address the property rights issues at stake; and (3) only the Landowners raised the important defense of lack of jurisdiction under the Indian Claims Commission Act (ICCA).
If there were any doubts about the magnitude or importance the Mille Lacs 1837 Treaty Case has for sportsmen, property owners, Native Americans, our fifty States, and the Federal Government, they were quickly diminished as one sat in witness while the highest court in our land convened to hear oral argument on December 2, 1998. We had helped bring a case to the highest court in the land. We surely wouldn't be at the Supreme Court if this issue wasn't of national importance. Seven other States would not have filed briefs in support of our position if this was not a big issue.
The courtroom was packed to overflowing. Extra chairs were set up in the isles to accommodate the expected crowd of concerned observers. Delegations from all factions were present. Members of the Minnesota DNR and Attorney General's Office, a group from the association of Counties in Minnesota who are parties to the lawsuit, Mille Lacs area residents including Joe Karpen, a landowner defendant in the case, and others from both the tribal and non-tribal walks of life. Hundreds of people from all across the U.S. and Canada attended to hear how this case would be argued. And of course the members of the media were there to do their job. All filed in for the 10:00 a.m. hearing
I couldn't help but feel a surge of emotion as we awaited the proceedings to begin. I was nervous, hoping our side would do well. The State of Minnesota would argue first for twenty minutes, and the Landowners would conclude for our side with ten minutes. For the tribes, the Mille Lacs Band would go first for fifteen minutes, the the U.S. Justice Department would conclude with the last fifteen minutes. I felt proud to be a part of an effort that had brought an issue to the highest level in our justice system. And I was awe-struck by the grandness of our Nation's Capitol and the Supreme Court building with its three story tall columns and flowing red curtains. I was also grateful. I felt proud to live in a country where citizens can settle our disagreements in such an orderly and peaceful way. This has been a protracted and difficult issue, but throughout our five-plus years of involvement in the Mille Lacs Treaty Case, everyone associated with PERM has attempted to keep the peace and fight for what we believe to be legally and morally correct in the courtroom, and not at the boat landings. We are, after all, a nation of laws, and we have worked within the law to challenge what we believe to be unjust claims by the Chippewa Bands in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Once underway, the Supreme Court Justices quickly took command of the proceedings. Not one of the four attorneys was able to get more than a few sentences into their prepared statements before being interrupted by what would turn out to be a constant line of questioning from the Court. The justices seemed focused on the 1850 Presidential Order, which we argue ended the Chippewa hunting, fishing and gathering privileges. No one can accurately predict how the Court will ultimately rule, but several circumstances now put the odds of a victory in our favor. First is the fact that the Court agreed to review the case. At least four of the nine Justices must have voted to do so. That means at least four of nine think that there may be some flaws in the rulings up to this point. Secondly, the Supreme Court reverses the lower Court in about two thirds of the cases it accepts. This is also a reflection of the fact that if the Supreme Court agreed with the lower Court, they would not have voted to review the case. The third reason why we should be optimistic is based on the recent direction the High Court has taken on other Indian related cases, often ruling favorably to the States. And finally, we presented four main defenses to the Supreme Court, any of which, if accepted, would mean a victory for the State of Minnesota, the Landowners and the Counties. The Chippewa and the Federal Government must win on all four arguments to win the case. For these reasons, most of those gathered outside on the steps of the Supreme Court Building afterward felt we would be looking at a favorable end to this, the most significant case in years maybe ever by next spring. It's possible that we could have a ruling before ice-out.
While the end of this legal battle is almost here, PERM has incurred a significant debt fighting for sportsmen, property owners, those who depend on our natural resources for their livelihoods, and people who believe that two sets of laws based on class or ethnic background is morally corrupt and unconstitutional. We have raised nearly a million dollars over the past five years, but we need to raise another three hundred thousand dollars to pay for this effort. Though we are extremely grateful to our supporters and proud of our accomplishments, we are not too proud to ask that everyone renew their commitment to Proper Economic Resource Management. If you haven't supported us in the past, please join us now. It's not too late to jump on the PERM wagon. We have a couple of fundraisers coming up. Don't miss our Annual Metro Area Fundraiser at Blainbrook on 2/4/99. Also be sure to order your tickets for our Annual Wild Game Dinner at Earl Brown Center on 2/27/99. Look for information in this newsletter.
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I was disturbed by the racist comments made by the Menominee Tribal Chief about the federal justice system, equating the judges with Hitler and the Nazis. The statements and attacks by some of the supporters of apartheid from the Wisconsin and Canadian Indians after the Supreme Court hearing on The Mille Lacs Case were upsetting as well. They were in stark contrast to supporters of equal rights like Joe Karpen, a defendant in the Mille Lacs case. Joe was quoted as saying we are satisfied to have exercised our rights as U.S. citizens and will abide by the Supreme Court ruling. In contrast, Tom Moulson, Chairman of the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa, said "No matter which way this goes, we're going to be out there spearing fish.... We'll just tell our children to disobey the ruling and do it anyway. Peter Kelly, a representative of Canadian tribes said "We don't recognize Minnesota. We recognize the Chippewa territory, and we will continue to recognize the Chippewa territory regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules. Verne Bellecourt, AIM activist, called Howard Hanson, longtime defender of sportfishing and the Constitution, a racist and a Nazi. Mr Bellecourt threatened to lead a race riot in Downtown Minneapolis if the Chippewa lose this case. Personally, I hope there are more people out there like Joe Karpen and Howard Hanson. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, the racist attacks must end and we will all have to abide by the law.