In an interview of tribal representatives, Javier Serna, Assistant Editor, Outdoor News Minnesota explores reasons for why tribal and state hunting seasons differ. Many tribal and state hunting seasons differ: Why?

Tribal representatives tried to make the case that a “subsistence hunting and gathering culture” at the time treaties were signed still exists today. However, the Courts have ruled that the continued existence of treaty harvest rights was based on tribal culture and not on the need for subsistence. The failure of this workaround is due to the following:

They said it co-exists with “conservation,” the concept of which did not exist at the time treaties were signed.

It is their blending of culture and subsistence that today justifies the the tribes’ current subsistence basis for harvests, which undermines the conservation of our natural resources.

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Many tribal and state hunting seasons differ: Why?
By Javier Serna, Assistant Editor, Outdoor News Minnesota, September 23, 2022

Cloquet, Minn. — Tribal hunting seasons tend not to resemble those of hunting seasons set by state natural resources agencies, including the Minnesota DNR.

But there are a number of reasons for these differences and considerations in setting them, according to a pair of tribal representatives.

“It is partly cultural,” said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Schrage gave the example of the spring walleye season, when tribal members spear or net fish.

“I think it’s for the most part trying to maximize opportunity for tribal members while keeping with conservation,” he said.

“We tend to have longer seasons and more liberal bag limits.”

That only works on a smaller scale, because the number of members participating in tribal hunts is much smaller than the number who participate statewide during a given hunting or fishing season, Schrage said.

“Tribal hunters are entitled to half of the harvestable surplus, and we have many fewer hunters and anglers. We can have longer seasons and more liberal seasons and still stay within the tribal share,” he said.

A subsistence hunting and gathering culture still remains strong among tribal members, Schrage added. That goes well with maximizing opportunity – and longer seasons.

The bear season, for instance, is much narrower for state hunters this year, running from Sept. 1 to Oct. 16. In the 1854 ceded territory, it started Aug. 27 and ends on the last day of the year (it ends Nov. 15 in the 1837 ceded territory).

The deer season is another example of the differences. While the state archery hunt lines up exactly with 1854 ceded territory archery deer season, the firearms seasons do not line up, and are much longer for 1854 bands. Instead of a few weeks in November (depending on the series number in Minnesota for state hunters), the 1854 firearms seasons starts Nov. 5 and ends Dec. 31.

Charlie Rasmussen, a public information officer with the Odanah, Wis.-based Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the term “subsistence” is sometimes scoffed at by some non-band members. GLIFWC represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

“I like to use the term, food first,” Rasmussen said. “People are eating as a dietary supplement. People are trying to eat better. People recognize their bodies want those ancestral foods, and they feel better after eating them than they do after a fast-food meal.”

Many tribal hunters enter the woods like it’s going to the grocery store, he said.

In that sense, longer seasons all opening on the same day are helpful.

“Hunting can be a general venture,” Rasmussen said. “Wildlife is food. A lot of things start the day after Labor Day. It’s in that same vein of going to the grocery store to see what is available. It might be turkey, it might be deer, or it might be bear. There can be a lot of possibilities on a hunt. That general nature of hunting, it makes a lot of sense to have things start at the same time.”

Rasmussen noted one of the best examples he’s ever seen occurred at Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin’s Burnett County.

There, a couple of years ago, he came upon a tribal hunter who had two deer, a gobbler, and three grouse on the back of his pickup truck.

“You have a rifle and you have a shotgun,” he said. “You took what nature gave you that day. It is a food-first approach.”

Tradition plays a role in how the seasons are set, Rasmussen and Schrage said.

Tribal hunters tend to have a lengthy deer season, whether they’re hunting on their own reservations or on ceded territory, where treaties such as those of 1837 or 1854 might give them differing season lengths and hunting rights.

“That dates back to when we talk about traditional or ecological knowledge; we are talking about handing down things like start dates,” Rasmussen said. “Deer are one of those things. It’s one of those places where science and traditional environmental or ecological knowledge come together.”
When tribes would start hunting, Rasmussen said, in August is the same time fawns are weaned from doe milk.

“That typically means August in our part of the world,” he said. “In some areas, like the St. Croix area, one marker they had was the local firefly hatch was in mid-August. When you see the fireflies, you knew it was time to hunt deer. This is the same time when the fawns are weaned.”

But some of the reasons why a season is set when it is set, especially when band members are going to be hunting public land, is to avoid creating public safety issues.

“We don’t allow any rifle hunting, except for bear hunting, until the day after Labor Day” Schrage said, noting that more leaves on the trees and more people in the woods are a bad mix. “Public safety influences sometimes how seasons are set.”

Added Rasmussen, “We are also in a modern time on a shared landscape, and there is still a lot of recreation happening. So in consultation with the DNR, tribes moved their off-reservation seasons to the day after Labor Day. That is to avoid any conflicts with land use.”

Schrage said some differences, among the different treaties or reservations, is the specific language in the treaties.

“Some of it can be the modern exercise of treaty rights, which has been negotiated between the state and the tribes,” Schrage said. “In the 1837 treaty, much of that was initially driven by the bands based in Wisconsin. They copied what they had already accomplished in Wisconsin and brought it over to Minnesota. In the 1854, the bands had a different history. Some of it is historical preference. By the time the Fond du Lac band entered the 1837, it was already quite a ways along. We rolled with what was already going on.”

And changes do happen, Schrage noted.

“Just like with state seasons and bag limits,” he said, “some of this changes over time as we gain more experience and learn about harvest and what impact it does or doesn’t have.”
Schrage said that some of the reservation seasons over time have been changed to more closely align
with tribal seasons off-reservation.

Some of the differences, especially when it comes to seasons not being offered that state hunters get, are cultural, such as there being no sandhill crane season on the FdL reservation, he said.

That’s because of concerns by members of the band’s crane clan.

“Hunting cranes would not go over well,” Schrage said. “Off-reservation, the band agreed it would be OK to allow crane hunting for those members that want to.”

Similarly, that has been at play with wolf hunting.

There, it gets beyond wolf clan members’ concerns, Schrage said. The wolf is a central figure in the Ojibwe creation story, he said.

There is a tribal connection between members and wolves, “in terms of what happens to one, happens to the other. It’s what many Ojibwe feel is a shared history between wolves and the Ojibwe people,” he said.