Meetings to outline 1854 treaty dispute


By Rob Drieslein

Editor - Outdoor News

St. Paul - The DNR plans to conduct several public meetings this fall to update citizens on the status of negotiations over resource management in the 1854 Ceded Territory.

In March 1996, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe won its lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging state regulation of fish and game harvest with the 1854 area, which encompasses Minnesota's Arrowhead region. The court postponed the second phase of the suit - how to implement the rights and the band's take - until the courts resolved the 1837 Treaty case.

Since the U.S Supreme Court ruling on the 1837 lawsuit early in 1999, the State Attorney General's office has had two or three correspondences with the Band, according to Michelle Beeman, DNR legislative director.

The state would like to accelerate the process this fall by meeting directly with band representatives to discuss specific issues such as moose and fish harvest, she said. Face-to face-meetings likely would include band representatives, Attorney General's office personnel, and key DNR employees.

Before meeting, however, the DNR wants to outline the status of the case with the public, she said. "There's been some confusion between this case and 1837, and we'd like to update folks on where we're at with this prior to meeting with the band," she said.

Three Minnesota bands fall under the 1854 treaty: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage. In 1987, following a dispute over state regulation with a Grand Portage band member, the state forged an agreement with all three bands for the 1854 territory. As part of the agreement, the state pays about $1.6 million annually to the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands.

Fond du Lac later pulled out of the agreement and filed its lawsuit against the state. It has not accepted any state payments since 1989.

Dates and locations for the public meetings have yet to be determined, Beeman said, though she estimated they will occur in late September or October in northeast Minnesota.

Court rules on BWCA use

In related treaty news, a federal appeals court ruled last week that four members of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe violated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978 by using motorized transportation to reach off-reservation fishing areas.

The decision affirmed District Court rulings that had been consolidated for the appeal.

On various occasions, David Gotchnik, Terry Lee Anderson and Thomas Jay Anderson had used boats equipped with outboard motors to get to fishing locations within the BWCA, and Mark Stepec used an all-terrain vehicle to travel over the frozen waters of Basswood Lake, according to the St. Louis, Mo.-based appeals court.

The men argued that Indians retained the right to hunt and fish on the land that was ceded to the United States under an 1854 treaty, and maintained that the treaty secured their right to use modern transportation to get to the areas where they planned to hunt and fish.

The three-judge Appeals Court panel disagreed. "A motorboat, all-terrain vehicle, or helicopter for that matter, may make it easier to reach a preferred fishing or hunting spot within the Boundary Waters Area, but the use of such motorized conveyances is not part and parcel of the protected act of hunting or fishing," Chief Judge Roger Wollman wrote.

"To be sure, the prohibition on motorboat and motor vehicle use may make it

somewhat less convenient for appellants to reach the most remote regions of the Boundary Waters Area, but we do not think this inconvenience impermissibly infringes upon their Treaty rights," Wollman wrote.

The court noted that the appellants have the same access to all parts of the BWCA that the bands had when the treaty was signed.