Supreme Court affirmed State’s ownership of Red Lake

With more attention given to the poaching case in Northern Minnesota involving members from several Indian Tribes, “Sale of contraband walleyes from Red Lake, Leech Lake persists” it’s again clear that one major point is missing.

All press accounts I have read imply that all of Lower and about half of Upper Red Lake are controlled by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. This is an assumption PERM has questioned for years. In fact, it is directly contradicted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1926 U.S. v. Holt State Bank decision.

In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Red Lake was not made part of the Red Lake reservation, so there was no “exclusion of others from the use of navigable waters.” They added that in the creation of the Red Lake reservation “There was nothing in this which even approaches a grant of rights in lands underlying navigable water…”

The court affirmed that the Indians were to have access to the lake, and to be entitled to “use them in accustomed ways; but these were common rights vouchsafed to all, whether white or Indian…” The Court added that these waters “shall be common highways, and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of said State as to all other citizens of the United States.” Finally, the Supreme Court concluded, “…the State on its admission into the Union became the owner of the bed of the lake…”

In a televised interview with then DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam, I brought this to his attention. He answered, “We know of that decision, but we plan to deal with the Red Lake Band the way we have for the past 75 years.”

Since Holt has never been overturned, does that not put our state in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling? The Governor, DNR Commissioner, Attorney General, and all members of our legislature have been notified of this various times. Ignoring this should put them all in violation of their oath of office, to uphold the law of the land.