By Joe Fellegy (from Outdoor News, May 21, 2010)
The illegal “treaty rights” fishing on Lake Bemidji on May 14, the day before Minnesota’s season opener, likely drew more news coverage than did the Governor’s Fishing Opener. There was the protest demonstration, which included fishing for walleyes and pike outside Minnesota’s season. Some used gill nets, equipment not allowed under state law. The illegal fishing and the accompanying “information” sessions by tribal government officials and others were related to the new quest for White Earth and Leech Lake Chippewa off-reservation harvesting rights across millions of acres and multiple counties in the 1855 Treaty ceded territory. Tribal co-management authority is also being sought.
I’ve followed the voluminous news reports. Reporters, tribal government officials, “rights” advocates, and other voices typically spoke of rights “inherent” in the Treaty of 1855, and the pursuit of “off-reservation fishing, hunting, and gathering rights.” The power-word “rights” dominated the news and the events around Lake Bemidji. Altogether, one might get the mistaken impression—fully intended—that the 1855 Treaty was a 21st century Chippewa fishing license, and even a tribal resource-management license, across the big 1855 ceded territory.
Somehow, 1855 Treaty basics were absent from all the “treaty rights” coverage. That treaty with the Chippewa was a land sale (Chippewa to Uncle Sam). A key aim was to consolidate the Indians by creating certain Chippewa reservations—and by ending off-reservation rights.
From the treaty’s Article 1: “(The Chippewa) hereby cede, sell, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in, and to, the lands now owned and claimed by them, in the Territory of Minnesota. . . And the said Indians do further fully and entirely relinquish and convey to the United States, any and all right, title, and interest of whatsoever nature the same may be, which they may now have in, and to any other lands in the Territory of Minnesota or elsewhere.”
Obviously, the plain meaning and clear intent of the 1855 Treaty was to extinguish the off-reservation “rights” now being claimed. Of course, plain meaning doesn’t always triumph in the court process. Cannons of construction and loopholes can sidestep a law’s clear intent. Meanwhile, know that the 1855 Treaty was intended to extinguish, not preserve, off-reservation “rights.”
Treaty with the Chippewa, 1855 – Full Text
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