Grant, Hanson, and PERM attacked...
Columnists and editors scold opponents of '93 "settlement"

By Joe Fellegy

Press reaction following the Supreme Court's narrow ruling that a temporary treaty fishing and hunting privilege somehow survived a treaty-authorized presidential revocation order, a later treaty relinquishment, and Minnesota statehood, was predictable. Columnists and editors responded with a barrage of I-told-you-so columns, coming down hard on those who helped defeat a 1993 out-of-court "settlement" in the Minnesota Legislature.

Pioneer Press columnist Nick Coleman attacked Bud Grant and PERM. WCCO-TV news anchor Don Shelby was equally acid-tongued in denouncing Grant, Howard Hanson, and those backing one set of rules for all citizens.

Supporters of the out-of-court settlement almost never recite the key components of that "compromise," which really wasn't much different from a complete tribal court victory. Shelby said something like, "$8 million dollars and it would have been over." Coleman, too, talked of the dollars, 7,500 acres of land, a tribal-only "exclusive" fishing zone at Mille Lacs (always characterized as insignificant), and no commercial fishing for game fish at Mille Lacs (probably a non-issue anyway).

But the rest of the "settlement" story, always untold by Coleman and cohorts, includes a tribal jurisdictional agenda compromising state resource management authority and raising legal and political questions that citizens deserve to know about.

The compromises asked of the state would have been "final," in the form of a "court order," and signed by Diana Murphy, the federal district judge who later ruled in favor of the bands in Phase I of the Mille Lacs case.

In the settlement, the state would have formally acknowledged treaty rights, whatever future legal ramifications that might have entailed; awarded to the Indians 50 percent of the harvestable surpluses of fish and game across eastern Minnesota's millions of acres of 1837 ceded territory, except in a 6,000-acre tribal "exclusive" zone in Mille Lacs, where licensed Minnesota anglers would have been excluded and where the Mille Lacs Band tribal government would have controlled access and licensing. The state would have signed on to tribal "co-management" of Minnesota natural resources in the ceded territory; recognized the old 61,000-acre 1855 Treaty Mille Lacs Reservation, covering three townships adjoining the south portion of Mille Lacs - a real jurisdictional hornets' nest for citizens and all levels of government; and embraced cross-deputization of state and tribal conservation officers.

The "burden of proof" in disputes over the settlement's playing out would have fallen on the shoulders of the state. The state had some far-out recourse in matters of conservation, but only if a species was faced with extinction - a parameter later agreed to by state and tribal leaders negotiators in developing the present treaty harvest arrangements. The "settlement" also authorized "harvestable surplus" fish and wildlife management, with quotas, caps, and special regulations.

The settlement proposal also included $8.6 million or $10 million to the Mille Lacs Band tribal government, depending on payment schedule; 7,500 to 15,000 acres of Minnesota public lands, never specified and without input from citizens in the mystery area; and plenty of other legalese and state obligations - all under the ultimate purview of federal courts! And much of it without the usual press scrutiny and public debate!

Such was the '93 settlement proposal that Shelby chalks off as a simple matter of "$8 million and that would have been it." Do Coleman, Grow, Shelby, and the editors embrace all that? Do they really believe it was somehow tainted for Bud Grant, Howard Hanson, and other citizens to raise some concerns, or to defend state and citizen interests in court? And why is the momentous tribal jurisdictional agenda - included in the settlement bill and apparently backed by high state officials, politicians, and the media establishment - always hidden, no questions asked?

When the settlement bills were debated in the Minnesota Legislature, representatives from Wisconsin Ojibwe bands questioned the Mille Lacs Band/State of Minnesota deal, warning that as co-signers of the 1837 Treaty they were entitled to similar settlements. Since 1993 court opinions have indeed affirmed the status of six Wisconsin bands and the Fond du Lacs Band of Minnesota in the case. Seven more settlements with eight tribal fishing zones in Mille Lacs instead of one? Seven more of everything else?

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, it may be fair to quibble about the merits of settling six years ago. But the discussion is usual flawed when those like Coleman and Shelby dodge the main components of that secretly-negotiated deal.

( Joe Fellegy is an outdoor columnist, local historian and long time resident of the Mille Lacs Lake Area. Joe also publishes the Mille Lacs Fishing Digest, a quarterly newspaper for the Mille Lacs angler.)