Two Leech Lake tribe members facing illegal deer hunting charges asked the Beltrami County District Court to dismiss their case last Friday. They claimed the state has no jurisdiction to charge them over hunting violations.

Tribal members Tony Lee Morris and Randy Gregg Finn, both of Cass Lake, shot a doe they encountered on a rural gravel road a few miles outside the Leech Lake Reservation. They shot the deer from their car, and then followed the wounded deer onto private land, where they gutted it and dragged it back to the road.

The men were confronted by the landowner, after which they left the deer and fled. DNR officers later located Morris and Finn, and the two men confessed to killing a deer out of season, on private land.

Tribal attorney Frank Bibeau argued that the case should be dismissed, claiming an 1855 Treaty gave tribal members the right to hunt, fish and gather across most of northern Minnesota.

The case is similar to one in which four Ojibwe tribe members were charged almost a year ago with illegally gathering wild rice without a permit and setting gill nets. While that case is considered to be the first step in a court battle to clarify tribal land use rights, Morris and Finn’s case, would not be part of it, according to Bibeau.

Expect more incidents of illegal harvest as a narrative is built to show that harvest–and soon to appear “land use” rights–have existed all along.

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