By Joe Fellegy Outdoor News December 6, 2013

In large portions of Minnesota, resource-management issues are tribal-connected. Think moose, wolves, Mille Lacs walleyes, and more, with inevitable questions about who manages what, whom, and where. Now comes U. S. District Judge John Tunheim’s use of 1837 Treaty rights in his weird Nov. 25 dismissal of tribal black-market fish-sales cases. These cases involve large lakes—Cass, Leech, Winnie, and Upper Red—and Indian reservations outside the vast 1837 Treaty ceded territory of east-central Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.

Once again, Minnesota citizen-taxpayers and license-buyers will watch how state government acts, or fails to act, when tribal connections challenge state interests. Expect far-reaching legal and political fallout from the Tunheim rulings. Which members, or even governments, from what Chippewa bands might push “treaty rights” fishing, subsistence and/or commercial, where? Could Judge Tunheim’s 1837-tie-ins encourage Mille Lacs-style spawning-time tribal gill-net harvests at lakes traditionally not linked to the 1837 legal-political hassles? Extremist “treaty management” affecting anglers, businesses, and resource managers in new places?

And if Leech Lakers, Red Lakers, and White Earth enrollees can claim 1837 harvest rights on near-home waters outside the 1837 ceded territory, could their rights and tribal management authority transfer into the actual treaty area—Mille Lacs and eastward into Wisconsin—with possible tribal turf wars?

Remember, federal taxpayers spend unreported millions to fund tribal governments, including their DNRs. Add larger multi-tribe “umbrella” management agencies, like the Duluth-based 1854 Treaty Authority whose territory covers much of Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), headquartered in Odanah, Wisc., exercises management clout in 1837, 1842, and 1854 treaty-ceded territories, an area stretching across a dozen east-central Minnesota counties, northern Wisconsin, and into Michigan. GLIFWC represents the eight bands involved in 1837 treaty harvests and co-management at Mille Lacs: Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs in Minnesota, plus six Wisconsin Chippewa bands. (And where does the buck stop?)

Lots of context questions

A giant ongoing issue, highlighted by Judge Tunheim’s fish-sales rulings, is the jurisdictional balance—where state management authority begins and ends within Minnesota. Notice how Minnesota’s DNR, other state agencies, the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor, and Minnesota’s Congressional delegation (tribal equals federal) consistently dodge this jurisdiction matter. Given tribal quests for more power—via big-time politics, law, and lobbying—how will Minnesota officials act, or not act, to protect state-citizen interests and natural resources?

Remember, with tribal topics the usual standards in politics and journalism often disappear. Secrecy reigns. Transparency and accountability get tossed. Important questions about who’s in charge, who decides what, dollar costs, etc., go unasked. Deciders can sidestep the public’s “right to know.”

The late Bill Lawrence, Red Lake Chippewa journalist whose Ojibwe News/Native American Press was banned by certain Mao-style rights-denying tribal governments, admirably encouraged issues discussions-debates and pushed for official accountability. Bill’s rule: always distinguish between “the Indians,” meaning the people, and what he called the Indian Industry—modern tribal governments and management agencies, and their lawyers, lobbyists, generous campaign contributions, and enormous political clout. In other words, it’s not “anti-Indian” to critique tribal government policies and practices.

DNR leaders ‘trained’

Recall gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton’s promising comments in the Outdoor News booth at 2010 Game Fair. He knocked tribal political influence and called for equal fishing and hunting rights in Minnesota. He termed the playing-out of treaty rights at Mille Lacs “unfortunate and very destructive,” clearly understanding the social negatives. He pledged “work” to fix it.

So where’s Governor Dayton fix? Nowhere. Instead, last Aug. 8 he signed Executive Order 13-10, mandating all Executive Branch agencies to develop regular tribal consultation, tribal-friendly practices, and a stew of collaborations, interactions, and trainings. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Deputy Commissioner Dave Schad were trained with about 45 others in a two-day extravaganza at Treasure Island Casino on Oct. 9-10.

A prominent Indian Industry activist-trainer was Tadd Johnson, lawyer, former Mille Lacs Band Solicitor-General, former head of the National Indian Gaming Commission, and presently Chair of the Indian Studies Department at University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). Prof. Johnson is dedicated to strengthening tribal jurisdiction at the expense of state power. He and other trainers use maps showing a Mille Lacs Indian Reservation fifteen times larger than the one on Governor Dayton’s official state highway map.

Governor, scrap that misguided Order 13-10 and promote much-needed transparency and accountability on tribal matters. How’s something like this for an order? “Whenever state officials and designees representing Minnesota government and citizens ‘sit down with tribes’ they must reveal all state and citizen interests on the table.”

That would cover agency tribal liaisons, like Assistant DNR Commissioner Mike Carroll, and DNR’s Regional Treaty Coordinator Tom Jones (whose job description spans 11 pages), and those serving on Legacy councils, like the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Hey, seek legislative support, if necessary.

Mille Lacs meltdown?

The walleye bite can be hot, cold, or in-between. Rods still bend. What’s new is unprecedented fed-upness among local residents, fishing-related businesses at the lake and beyond, and in the vast far-flung Mille Lacs angling community. Negative emotions run high, thanks to the massive spawning-time tribal gill-net fishery, the resulting extremist angling regulations, and endless news about reg changes, DNR surveys, hooking mortality, harvest stats, the latest “safe allowable harvests,” ad nauseum. Distrust, impatience, worry, hopelessness, sadness, resentment, and even scorn run deep. How long can a state agency function effectively midst such widespread disillusionment and diminished respect among constituent-stakeholders?