Court Rules For State In Wisconsin Case

On November 17, 1998 a three judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously upheld a district court ruling in favor of the State of Wisconsin. In 1995, the Menominee Tribe filed suit, claiming off reservation treaty rights in a large portion of eastern Wisconsin including Lake Winnebago and portions of Lake Michigan. In 1996, the District Court dismissed the claims because the treaty language was ambiguous and contingent on ownership of the land. The case was appealed to the 7th Circuit and the Court upheld the lower court's decision.

According to Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle, "This is a major victory for states like Wisconsin that believe treaties should be enforced according to their plain language." We believe the Menominee were asking the courts to interpret the treaty as they would like it to have been written, not how it was actually written.

In 1997, PERM's attorneys provided documents to, and had several conversations with, the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office in order to assist them in their preparation for the 7th Circuit. PERM also provided information for an amicus brief that was filed in the case. Similar issues were involved and we felt a favorable ruling would not only be good for Wisconsin, but would be helpful for us in the Mille Lacs 1837 Treaty case as we headed for the Supreme Court. Clearly the District Court in Wisconsin and the 7th Circuit Court are in tune with the direction given by the Supreme Court in recent years. Unlike the 8th Circuit in Mille Lacs, the lower courts in Menominee followed the clear language of the treaty. They also held that treaty rights were a part of land ownership, and not some new, invented form of rights. Finally, the District Court agreed that the Indian Claims Commission did have jurisdiction in hunting and fishing rights cases, something PERM has argued all throughout the Mille Lacs case.

The Chief of the Menominee Tribe has vowed to Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a letter to Indian Country Today, he equated the 7th Circuit Court to Hitler and the Nazis, a tactic that will probably not gain much favor with the High Court.