Other news from around the country
If approved by all parties and the U.S. District Court, a new agreement would share the responsibility for dividing up harvest of beluga whales among the various Alaskan Native groups. During the past decade, the population of beluga whales is estimated to have plunged from 1300 to just 350. Federal biologists blame the decline on native subsistence harvest. The new plan would limit Native harvest to just two whales per year for the next twenty-five years. Native groups in the region are fighting over who will kill the whales.
The State of Illinois appears to be holding strong in its decision to fight the Miami Indians' claim to 2.6 million acres not far south of the Chicago metropolitan area. The tribe sued fifteen private citizens as representatives of all property owners in the disputed area for the return of their land. According to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose state is facing similar tribal land claims, "They held hostage thousands of innocent property owners in the misguided belief that property owners would besiege elected officials to surrender and give the Indians whatever they wanted." Well the landowners did not back down and the State of Illinois is coming to their defense as well. According to Illinois Governor George Ryan, tribal leaders have offered to settle their claim for 5,000 acres of land and the right to build a casino, but the State isn't settling. In fact they are attempting to intervene on behalf of the Landowners and have passed legislation to help them financially with their legal expenses incurred defending everyone's property rights in this case.
In a test of tribal sovereignty, with impacts reaching to tribal jurisdiction and environmental regulation, three Indian leaders in Maine are defying a court order to turn over records in a case involving the tribes' efforts to block the State of Maine from enforcing water quality standards on and near the tribes' reservations. According to Brooke Barnes from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, "It's frustrating to waste their and our efforts on these chest-puffing sovereignty issues, when we should be cleaning up the rivers." Tribes from across the country have lined up in support of the Maine tribal leaders, who say the conflict cuts to the heart of Indian tribes' status as autonomous, sovereign governments. Yet it is the federal government that is attempting to steal for the tribes, regulatory powers reserved to the states under the Constitution. As is always the case, the federal EPA, which stands to benefit by usurping state power, has backed the tribes position.
Vandals cut over a half-mile of tribal gill nets in Munsing Bay this winter as tensions began increasing over the Michigan DNR's glitch in an agreement with area tribes that mistakenly allowed tribal netting in the bay for the first time in over seventy years. Tribal netters were quick to exploit the mistake, which has local residents and sportsmen upset at both the DNR and the tribes. The DNR has began new talks with the tribes to resolve the error.
New regulations have been announced for Mille Lacs Lake beginning May 12, 2001 with the fishing opener. Minnesota DNR and tribal officials have set the safe harvest level for walleye on Mille Lacs at 395,000 pounds for the 2001 season. A few dozen tribal gill netters will be allotted 85,000 pounds with the remaining 310,000 pounds left for the hundreds of thousands of sport fishermen who visit Mille Lacs each year. As a result of allowing tribal gillnetting of our public natural resource, special restrictions must be put in place to limit the public's ability to share in this tremendous fishery. The new regulations for Mille Lacs Lake this year will be a six fish daily and possession limit consisting only of fish between sixteen and twenty inches long, with the exception of being allowed one fish over twenty-eight inches in the six fish limit. All fish under sixteen inches must be released immediately. Non band member anglers must release all fish over twenty inches with the exception of one fish over twenty-eight inches long.
In addition to the walleye harvest, Band gill netters and spear fishermen, will be allowed to harvest one half of all northern pike, yellow perch and tullibee.
New regulations for the other 100 plus lakes in the 1837 Treaty area have not been released as of press time.
New York Congressman, Representative Thomas Reynolds, has asked the new United States Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to adopt a new policy and withdraw the federal government from land claim lawsuits involving Indian tribes. Under Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration, the Justice Department has intervened on behalf of Indian tribes in dozens of tribal lawsuits for land claims and special rights. As of early February, a spokesman for the Justice Department said that there has been no discussion of Indian land claims yet under Ashcroft.
Editor's note: All of us here in Minnesota will recall how the United States helped with initial funding and later intervened on behalf of the Mille Lacs Band in the 1837 Treaty hunting and fishing rights lawsuit. Could it be there is finally a glimmer of hope for a change in policy at the federal level?
The Seneca Indians continue to press their claim to ownership of Grand Island and other islands in the Niagara River. Grand Island, with 18,600 acres and 18,000 property owners, is the largest of the disputed islands. U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara will have the final say on how to interpret the language of the centuries-old treaty that lies at the heart of the dispute. He has denied the defendants their right to a jury trial and has said he will issue a summary judgment ruling in the case. Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department, who under the previous administration intervened on behalf of the Seneca Indians, have tried to assure property owners that they and the Senecas are not trying to evict them. Nevertheless, local authorities say the lingering dispute has been damaging to the area's real estate market.
n early February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that Indian tribes cannot claim they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOA). In a water rights dispute in the Western U.S., four tribes claimed that because of their special trust relationship with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, one similar to that of a child with his or her guardian, that their correspondence with the BIA was not open to the public or obtainable under FOA rules. The Supreme Court rejected the tribes' arguments. In writing the Court's opinion, Justice Souter said, "All of this boils down to requesting that we read an 'Indian trust' exemption into the statute, a reading that is out of the question."
Editor's note: One has to wonder how the tribes can be taken seriously when they ask to be special wards of the U.S. government while at the same time asserting complete tribal sovereignty and promoting a government-to-government relationship with the U.S.
New Brunswick, Canada
A Canadian plan to sign new fisheries agreements with some of its tribes that refused to sign, or missed out on last year's $160 million deal, seems doomed to fail. Despite the lack of results from recent efforts to negotiate a deal with remaining tribes in Eastern Canada over fishing rights, the Canadian government still plans to give Indian tribes access to the fisheries. It had planned on giving the tribes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and training as well.