From the Chairman
by Pat Doroff
Our feature article this issue is the latest report by Dick Sternberg concerning the Mille Lacs Lake fishery. This is the third year Mr. Sternberg has reviewed the DNR’s own data for Mille Lacs, digested its meaning, and offered recommendations on how to proceed with managing Minnesota’s premier walleye lake. Mr. Sternberg, himself a former biologist with the DNR, brings a common sense approach to dealing with issues resulting from treaty fisheries management. His work has been instrumental in achieving a realistic “safe harvest level” for Mille Lacs walleyes. Now he has focused his recommendations on setting a harvest regulation for sport anglers that will be good for the health of the fishery, and lead to a better fishing experience for anglers. As he has done each year, Sternberg sent his latest findings to the DNR for their review. Last month the DNR indicated in an Outdoor News article, that it would consider changing the regulations for Mille Lacs this coming season. Let’s hope they agree with Sternberg’s analysis of the data, and make the changes necessary to ensure a healthy fishery and allow walleye anglers a few fish for the fry pan!
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We are still awaiting a decision from the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether or not a lawsuit over the existence of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation should go to trial or not. Earlier, the District Court in St. Paul dismissed the suit brought by Mille Lacs County, saying that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the Mille Lacs Band’s assertion that the reservation established in 1855 continues to exist has caused them any harm. We are hopeful that the Appellate Court will reverse the lower court decision and send the case back for trial so that the issue can be resolved on the merits of the case. This issue does have significant implications on natural resource management in and around Mille Lacs Lake. If the Band were able to re-establish their old reservation, tribal members would be able to exercise even greater harvest rights in the area. A state court judge has ruled that White Earth tribal members could exercise hunting rights on private property on the White Earth Reservation. Exercising treaty rights on private property was one of the main things we prevented when PERM helped the Landowners in the 1837 Treaty off-reservation hunting and fishing rights lawsuit. But the protections won in the 1837 case could be lost for those who own property inside the old Mille Lacs Reservation.
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The U.S. Supreme Court will decide an important case called United States of America v. Billy Jo Lara. This case will shed some light on the source and extent of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. Does tribal authority stem from the powers granted by the U.S. Congress, or is it derived from a pre-Constitutional inherent tribal sovereignty? Can tribal sovereignty be used to deny U.S. citizens their Constitutional rights? Can Congress, by passing a law that recognizes tribal sovereignty, empower tribes to deny a citizen his or her Constitutional rights? How does federal law, state law and Indian law fit into our Constitutional government? These are just some of the key questions involved in this case. PERM attorney, Randy Thompson, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF). PERM has donated $1,000 to CERF to support their work. A lot more information on this landmark case can be found on the CERF/CERA web site at www.citizensalliance.org. PERM recommends you consider joining CERF/CERA. Just check them out on the web. I am sure you will find them to be worthy of your support.
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I want to wish everyone a joyful and prosperous 2004. I hope to see you at our Spring Pig Roast in Wahkon in May and our Spring Auction in June. For details, see our ads on page 8. In the meantime, have a safe winter, and good luck catching those fish through the ice!