By Joe Fellegy – Outdoor News – May 23, 2014
At angling websites and newspaper comment sections, when the topic touches what Ron Schara aptly dubs “the Mille Lacs mess,” one often sees ignorant, misinformed, and politically jaded remarks blaming Bud Grant. That’s Bud Grant, legendary former Minnesota Vikings coach, passionate outdoorsman, and equal-rights proponent.
If it hadn’t been for that darn Bud Grant, they say, everything could have been “settled.” What a powerword—settled! Yep, there’s that common spin about the early-1990s state-tribal Settlement Agreement. After Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe leaders and lawyers filed their anti- Minnesota “treaty rights” lawsuit, the whole thing could have been settled for a mere “few million dollars and a few acres of land.” Sounds like a bargain for a real fix. Except there was way more to it— like tons of legal baggage that would have impacted Minnesota’s resource-management authority and citizen harvest rights for years to come, not just at Mille Lacs but across 3,061,500 acres of 1837 Treaty ceded territory across 12 counties.
Today’s Bud-bashers cite that so-called “settlement” bill defeated in the Minnesota Legislature in 1993, while knowing little or nothing about its contents, or about who from state and tribal sides produced it (after a year-plus of secret negotiations), or who besides Bud Grant opposed it and why.
The notion that Bud Grant was some standout nut-cake extremist who quarter-backed the Minnesota Legislature into killing a “settlement” that would have spared Minnesota and Mille Lacs from the ongoing “treaty rights” hassles and costs is delusional and false. Consider some other Minnesotans who, for solid reasons, opposed and questioned that Settlement Agreement.
There was Gene Merriam, DFL state senator (1974-1996) who for years chaired the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources committee. Merriam, the 2014 Outdoor News Man of the Year, was Minnesota’s DNR Commissioner (2003-2007) and served conservation causes through work on the Clean Water Council, the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, and the Freshwater Society. Add Mark Holsten, Deputy DNR Commissioner under Merriam before becoming DNR Commissioner himself (2007-2010). Republican Holston served in Minnesota’s House of Representatives for a decade before his DNR stints.
Add Bob Lessard, state senator (1977-2002), longtime conservationist, namesake for the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, and presently with DNR Outreach. Bob chaired the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the early ‘90s when the Settlement Agreement came along. He recently recalled his disbelief and outrage upon learning how the secretly negotiated Settlement Agreement contained the infamous 6,000-acre “exclusive” Tribal Fishing Zone (TFZ) on the west side of Mille Lacs. Bob recalled how that provision would have limited public use and citizen access to Minnesota public waters and resources. He noted how state-tribal negotiators kept affected businesses and landowners out of the process. “No input, consultation, or outreach.”
In the early 1990s, Bud Grant was Honorary Chairman of Save Lake Mille Lacs Association (not to be confused with later or present “Save” organizations). In December, 1992, Bud and SLMLA sent a three-page letter to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bob Lessard. The letter, eloquently detailing 13 reasons for opposing the Settlement bill, was drafted on behalf of chairmen, directors, and presidents representing numerous organizations:
Minnesota Conservation Federation; Minnesota Deer Hunters Association; Operation Walleye, Central Lakes Chapter; North American Fishing Club; Women Anglers of Minnesota; Minnesota Bass Federation; Lake Superior Steelhead Association; Minnesota Trappers Association; Minnesota Sportfishing Congress; Minnesota Bear Hunters Association; Sauk Center Conservation Club; Cabela’s/In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail; Minnesota Bass ‘n Gals; Geese International; Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association; Hunting and Angling Club; Minnesota Pro Guide Services, Inc.; S.P.O.R.T.; Moosehorn Rod and Gun Club; Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club; Osseo Conservation Club; Muskies, Inc., Twin Cities Chapter; Mr. and Mrs. Fishing Club, Avon, MN; Minnesota Bow Hunters, Inc.; Rice County Sportfishing Association; FAIR; Martin County Conservation Club; Victoria Fishing League; and West End Fishing and Hunting Club.
Ron Lindner opposed the Settlement. Dr. John Schneider, college prof and son of the late Frank Schneider Jr., legendary Muskie’s Inc. and Minnesota Sportfishing Congress (MSC) activist, reported in MSC’s Winter 92/93 Fish Lines: “After reviewing the ‘compromise settlement,’ the MSC Executive Committee and Board of Directors voted to oppose the agreement as presented.” Schneider noted that “NO sportsmen group had input into this settlement. None was allowed.” In early May of 1993, 31 Minnesota House Democrats and 39 Republicans voted against the Settlement bill.
The Mille Lacs Band government’s 1837 “treaty rights” lawsuit, launched in 1990, did not flow from some longstanding or sacred rights cause, or from significant Band-member interest in netting and spearing Mille Lacs fish. Rather, given the emerging new federal Indian policy featuring “sovereignty”, separate nationhood, and growing legal and political clout for tribal governments, the lawsuit’s purpose was to get a “settlement” favoring more tribal jurisdiction and management authority. The proposed Agreement contained tons of legal baggage, including a definition of Mille Lacs Indian Reservation (legal Indian Country) 15 times larger than the one on official state highway maps, without explaining the legal ramifications for state citizens, including tribal enrollees. And how about Mille Lacs Band government getting 15,000 acres of Minnesota public land parcels—unspecified for the public? And much more!
Bud Grant stands on moral high ground compared to state officials who secretly negotiated the Settlement Agreement, with all its negative legal, political, and social implications for Minnesota; and who, during the 1990s court battles and later, helped dig the Mille Lacs hole as deep as possible to show sportsmen and others who helped defeat their beloved “settlement” just how bad things could get.