Parting thoughts from the Chairman

By the time you read this column, I will have ended my stint as Chairman of PERM. My new position is somewhat mandatory, as former chairpersons are automatically bestowed the title of immediate past chair. So, as I step back from the duties of Chairman, I will remain actively involved in assisting our new Chairperson with the ins and outs of the job.

As I look back over the years, I am struck by how fast time flies. Even before there was a PERM, I became involved with the issues because I loved to fish Mille Lacs Lake. I spent almost every weekend of the open and hard-water seasons fishing there. The big lake is something special, and only those who fish it know what I mean. In the early 1990s I began to hear rumors about the possibility of tribal gill netting, spearing during the spawning season, and even the chance of commercial fishing on my favorite lake. I met a few other people who were concerned too, including Howard Hanson, and Bud Grant. I figured this issue was for real, and maybe something could be done to protect my lake! Little did I know, that what I was about to get involved with would consume nearly ten years of my life.

Up until now I have been PERM's only Chairman. I, along with current board members, Scott Ebner, Howard Thurber and Don "The Duck Man" Helmeke, and former board members, Lance Stanley, Clyde Hegelund and Dale Menten had our first PERM Board of Directors meeting way back in July of 1993. Up until that time, we had just been a loosely, and I do mean loosely, organized bunch of people who thought that special hunting and fishing rights for some citizens and not others, was just not acceptable in America. We were concerned about how gill netting game fish, and spearing walleye, northern pike and musky during the spawn, and how the prospects of commercial fishing, would impact our natural resources. We were worried about how these issues would impact those who enjoy our public natural resources and those who depend upon their wise management for their livelihoods. Many of us had worked together to stop the secretly-negotiated deal the the DNR had made with the Mille Lacs Band to settle their claims for special treaty rights. And when several citizens from the treaty area were allowed to intervene in the lawsuit as the peoples' representatives, it became obvious to some of us that we needed to get organized and down to business if we were to stand a chance of raising the kinds of dollars necessary to compete with the deep pockets of the Mille Lacs Band and their allies in the federal government. Thus Proper Economic Resource Management, Inc. (PERM) was born.

Since those early days, when we scarcely knew how to put together a small raffle, we have successfully raised $1.25 million and fought for the interests of sportsmen, property owners, small businesses and state taxpayers, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. We have grown from a handful of original members to around a thousand today, and our list of financial contributors includes several thousand donors. We have come a long way from the days when a small spare bedroom in my home was the PERM office, to having a small, but real and functional office located in downtown Elk River. We have moved beyond struggling to put together that first small raffle to organizing and hosting twelve fundraising events each year, ranging from a huge consignment auction to a gourmet wild game dinner. Now we hold three big raffles throughout the year. In addition, we publish a quarterly newspaper and attend dozens of sport shows, fishing contests and fishing tournaments every year in an effort to spread our message of balanced solutions to natural resource management issues. Yes, we've come a long way.

The disappointments have been great. How can anyone ever get over, against long odds, finally getting to the United States Supreme Court in the Mille Lacs Treaty Case, only to come up one vote short of a complete and final victory. The day that ruling was announced was possibly the hardest day of my life. I felt as though we had let so many people down.

The rewards have been far greater. I misjudged the depth and commitment of our supporters. While it would have been entirely conceivable for PERM to have fallen apart after such a setback, our organization has remained strong, and our supporters are the root of that strength. The many outstanding people I have met through PERM are what I will treasure most. Your commitment, hard work and financial sacrifices are almost unbelievable. Sometime this current year we will have paid off all financial obligations related to fighting the Mille Lacs lawsuit to the Supreme Court. We will have raised over $82,000 used to fight for those citizens concerned about the Fond du Lac Band's lawsuit for special hunting and fishing rights in Minnesota's Arrowhead Region. We have worked on legal briefs filed in both the U.S. 7th and 8th Circuit Courts of Appeals, fighting tribal claims for special rights and jurisdiction. Most recently, PERM filed a friend of the court brief at the U.S. Supreme Court (see related story in this issue).

My proudest moment as PERM Chairman was traveling to Washington D.C. to listen to oral argument in the Mille Lacs lawsuit. I felt so honored to be a part of a group that had stood up for what we believed in, and had worked within the system to effect change. Despite losing the ultimate question of whether or not the Chippewa had retained special rights under the 1837 Treaty, we had won several things for Minnesota citizens by pursuing the goal of equal rights for all citizens. We assured that the tribe's rights did not extend to private property. We assured the residents and users of Mille Lacs Lake there would not be an exclusive tribal fishing zone where only Band members could fish. We kept gill nets out of Minnesota 1837 Treaty waters for over five years. And most importantly, we proved even to our skeptics, that we were not a bunch of racist "wacky walleye worshippers" who didn't know what they were doing. When all was said and done, four Supreme Court Justices agreed with every legal argument we had presented. If just one more Justice had agreed with one of the several arguments we made, we would have achieved complete success. As a result, many of our critics acknowledged that our position was not without merit. And most certainly, we had fought for our beliefs in the most honorable way, without racial attacks and demonstrations that divide communities.

In the coming years, I am confident PERM will continue to work for the principles in our name, proper economic resource management. We will fight attempts by tribal governments and their allies at the federal level to steal natural resource management from the peoples' representatives at the state and local level. We will work to protect property owners from the continued threat of environmental and zoning regulation by unaccountable tribal governments. And we will work within the system to change the system that recognizes special rights based on race and treaties that are no longer legal or the terms of which have long since expired.

I am confident our goals and ideals are just. Our methods and efforts are honorable. And for these reasons, someday we will live in a country where all citizens will truly be equal under the law. American Indian people will not be denied the full rights, opportunities or responsibilities set forth in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. They will not be "sovereign nations". Nor will they be segregated second class citizens on reservations in a country that supposedly ended legalized discrimination and segregation based on race many years ago. One day we will all hunt and fish together under one law as equals. And the efforts of PERM will have played a part in that day becoming a reality.

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I was intrigued by the media coverage that followed the Mille Lacs Band's decision to let Bud Grant know he was not welcome to attend certain portions of the Minnesota Vikings snowmobile ride to raise money for the Vikings' Children's Fund that were at the reservation casino. The local paper asserted that Bud Grant was paying the price for his stand on 1837 Treaty rights. Yes, I suppose he is paying the price. He was and is, committed to equal rights for all citizens, even equal hunting and fishing rights. Thank God someone is willing to stand up for what is right, no matter the personal price! Bud Grant put his most valuable asset on the line when he decided to work to protect our public natural resources and our traditions of hunting and fishing. He had courage enough to mention it before thousands of football fans in attendance, and millions more watching on national television, when he was honored at the Metrodome for his induction into the Pro-football Hall of Fame. He was attacked in the media for wanting equal rights. Columnists have called him and his supporters Bud-heads, yahoos, wacky walleye worshippers etc. Not to mention Nazi, anti-Indian and racist! Yes, I guess he is paying the price, but I'm not sure this last escapade by the Mille Lacs Band and their allies in the media has hurt Bud Grant as much as it has hurt the children for whom the annual charity ride by the Minnesota Vikings is held. Bud Grant will continue to pay the price to help afflicted children and to promote sound natural resource management. I'm not sure we can say the same about the Mille Lacs Band in either case.