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March 25, 2016

Dennis Anderson came out with a few overlooked facts about the 1837 treaty harvest arrangement under a 1999 Supreme Court ruling. He makes a case for Mille Lacs fishery co-management discussions being public. He thinks it’s the only way to get past a state divided by 16 years of closed negotiations.

It started with a 1990 Mille Lacs Chippewa lawsuit against the state of Minnesota over harvest rights in the 1837 Treaty’s ceded territory. Centerpiece of the lawsuit was Mille Lacs, the state’s premiere walleye angling destination. Also at stake was Mille Lac’s multimillion-dollar tourism economy.

A proposed settlement would have given the band $8.6 million, 7,500 acres of land and exclusive fishing rights on 4.5 percent of the lake. Plus a harvest of 24,000 pounds of walleye annually.

The Minnesota Legislature turned it down, reviving the lawsuit that was decided in the Chippewa’s favor 5-4 by the Supreme Court in 1999.

Anderson’s key overlooked fact is that while the rejected proposed settlement might look good compared to the present situation, it only included the Mille Lacs band. If the legislature had accepted it, they would have had to negotiate similar agreements with seven more tribes, who were parties to the 1837 Treaty.

That was unlikely given the first proposal’s rejection.

Today the DNR is forced to come up with ever more drastic quota schemes—the latest being no walleyes kept and no live bait—to accommodate treaty harvest rights.

Anderson figures the DNR and tribes have found ways to work together. But private negotiations, behind-the scenes stance of the tribes, and current situation with Mille Lacs fishery and economy, all combine to leave Minnesota “a state divided on Lake Mille Lacs.”

Anderson doesn’t see that changing until co-management occurs in public “for all to see.”

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Key facts missing

Dennis Anderson’s article is good. However, some key facts are missing.

The 4.5 percent of the lake was an exclusive tribal fishing zone that the state would have to patrol to keep non-tribal anglers out! But tribal harvest could be on all contiguous waters, allowing gillnets throughout the lake.

Many acres of land that were included in the deal had homes and businesses on them, which would require Minnesota to get clear title on all of them before any land transfer.

The Chippewa, including the Mille Lacs Band, accepted payments from the Indian Claims Commission in 1965 and 1973 to settle these claims with the Federal government once and forever!

The US Supreme Court ordered “come to an agreement” not MN taking orders from tribe.

Doug Meyenburg, President PERM