Principles of Native American journalist Bill Lawrence are needed today

Joe Fellegy in “Principles of journalist Lawrence needed today” writes about Bill Lawrence, Editor of Native American Press/Ojibwe News on the 10th anniversary of Lawrence’s death. Outdoor News March 14, 2020. (See below)

He recognizes Lawrence’s leadership and courage in calling for transparency and accountability as they dealt with State and Federal governments. A critical point always made by Lawrence was the importance of understanding the difference “between the Indians—meaning the people—and what he called today’s “Indian industry.”

Lawrence, formerly from the Red Lake reservation, asked hard questions about information often kept from Minnesotans and tribal members alike. He asked questions about following the money and power players behind today’s tribal related issues—“Pipeline politics. Mining issues. ‘Treaty rights’ harvests.”

Consider especially the issue of the Gull Lake gillnetting 1855 treaty case now being sent to the MN Supreme Court. Will Gov. Walz and AG Ellison defend MN citizens or not? Looks a lot like “not,” given AG Ellison’s (Governor backed) “opinion.” It reverses over 100 years of court rulings and State policy. The Gov. and AG are all in on expanding the current trust land “reservation” to 15 times its size.

Fellegy includes Mille Lacs “co-management” as another issue worthy of Lawrence’s hard follow-the-money-and-politics questions. He describes the DNR’s anemic negotiations to the tribe’s near elimination of angler walleye harvest from Mille Lacs. Outdoor News Editor Rob Drieslein recently called the tribe’s aggressive position on walleye harvest “ ‘downright mean’ and ‘ridiculous.’ “

Fellegy noted that Lawrence’s advocacy for the public’s right to know got his paper banned in many tribal enterprises throughout MN. He hoped that “Lawrence’s legacy [would] help fuel the public’s right to know!”

Principles of journalist Lawrence needed today
By Joe Fellegy     Rocking The Boat     Outdoor News     March 14, 2020

Bill Lawrence (1939-2010) published the periodical Native American Press/ Ojibwe News from 1988 to 2009. He passed away 10 years ago this month. When he was a kid, his family moved from the Red Lake Indian Reservation to Bemidji, where he excelled in academics and athletics, from grade school through college. He held various government jobs but drew special admiration and fame during his publishing career.

Lawrence was best known for championing transparency and accountability regarding modern tribal governments, including their dealings with state and federal policymakers. His memorable lectures to non-Indians, including me, went something like this: Hey, it’s nice that you have Indian friends. But in these modern times, always distinguish between the Indians – meaning the people – and what he called today’s “Indian industry.”

Indeed, today’s tribal governments are often the most powerful corporate-political-legal forces in their regions. Lawrence wanted more hard questions asked, more issues openly debated, and more data on the dollar flows – information often kept from citizens, including tribal enrollees. He strongly advocated for the public’s right to know.

Federal and state tax-dollar totals paid to tribal governments and their various agencies? Campaign contributions from tribal governments to politicians in state and federal governments? Behind-the-scenes power players and decision-makers?

Consider the big tribal-related issues now challenging vast areas of Minnesota’s outdoors. Pipeline politics. Mining issues. “Treaty rights” harvests. State-tribal co-management of Minnesota natural resources across multi-county treaty ceded territories. Add ongoing legal challenges, including the Gull Lake gill-netting 1855 treaty rights case now at the Minnesota Supreme Court level.

Hey, that 1855 ceded territory covers a huge swath of Minnesota, from Mille Lacs to the Canadian border at one point. Will Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison defend state and citizen interests, or not? Tribal attorneys in that treaty rights case work for the 1855 Treaty Authority. That entity’s makeup? Funding sources? Who runs the show?

And then there’s activist and White Earth Band member Winona LaDuke and Honor the Earth. Who constitutes Honor the Earth? Who funds its leaders and attorneys?

The Mille Lacs fishery is co-managed by Minnesota’s DNR and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the umbrella organization for the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 treaty rights. In Outdoor News Assistant Editor Javier Serna’s front-page feature, “Catch-and-release likely for Mille Lacs” (Outdoor News, Feb. 28, 2020), DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons recalled that in negotiations earlier this year, the Ojibwe bands wanted a total exploitation rate on adult walleyes of only 8%; the state advocated 13%; and the two sides settled on 11% and a 150,000-pound quota – an ultralow figure that likely will allow little or no keeping for state anglers in the coming open-water season.

A few years ago, the standard traditional exploitation rate of 24% was somewhat lowered. OK. But can the present super low numbers be justified?

On Outdoor News Radio, Feb. 29, 2020, Managing Editor Rob Drieslein and Editor Tim Spielman devoted a segment to Mille Lacs management. Drieslein rightly called the bands’ 8% exploitation-rate position “downright mean” and “ridiculous.”

And, more than ever, members of the Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee are variously calling the never-ending co-management mess and its negative impacts indefensible, unrealistic, and unacceptable. They raise questions about who’s being bought and paid for, and who on both sides are the real decision-makers.

Meanwhile, Walz and others defend this ongoing monster with power words such as “treaty rights” and “the law of the land” (Outdoor News, Feb. 21, 2020). And, as reported in Feb. 28 Outdoor News, Walz and Ellison now recognize the original Mille Lacs Indian Reservation – about 15 times larger than the reservation traditionally on official Minnesota highway maps.

Did they consult with Mille Lacs County officials, local governments, law enforcement, resource managers, property owners, and other interested parties? Apparently not.

Know that an Indian reservation is legal Indian country, with tons of ever-evolving laws attached. Think court opinions across the country, acts of Congress, presidential orders, the reach of federal agencies and their policies, etc. For many decades, Mille Lacs Band tribal elders considered the several thousand acres of trust land near present-day Grand Casino Mille Lacs as “the rez.”

Technically, it is trust land, but, like a reservation, it’s also legal Indian country. Call it a reservation and the meaning is similar. In the 1990s, the Mille Lacs tribal government worked to have various federal and state agencies recognize the much-bigger 61,000-acre original Mille Lacs reservation – which tribal elders, folks around the lake, and Minnesotans generally never identified with.

I remember a relevant story from Frank Courteau, a former Mille Lacs County Commissioner. When running for a seat on the Mille Lacs County Board in 1998, he visited city councils and township boards. At a Kathio Township session, he brought along a U.S. Geological Survey map that depicted the Mille Lacs Reservation as the huge 61,000- acre reservation, unknown to many residents. Courteau, like other area residents, grew up believing the reservation was the 4,000 acres of trust lands located at Vineland, where Grand Casino Mille Lacs is now located. State maps and signs supported that understanding.

Courteau said he still remembers that when Kathio Township board member and Mille Lacs Band elder Loretta (Kegg) Kalk saw that USGS map with the big original reservation, she exclaimed, “Something’s wrong! We don’t have all that!” Courteau’s response to her: “You’re right.”

Reservation status is a big issue! Will the Minnesota Department of Transportation soon change official highway maps and signage to show that bigger “Mille Lacs Indian Reservation” now officially supported by Walz and Ellison? Will Walz and Ellison provide Minnesotans, including tribal enrollees, detailed information about what legal Indian country – 15 times larger than the reservation they’re used to – could mean legally and politically?

And then there’s Executive Order 19-24, signed by Walz last April. That order mandates tribal-relations training for state leaders and personnel in 24 state agencies whose work may affect tribes. The trainers and their gospels? The trainees, including DNR personnel? Impacts on public policy?

Lawrence embraced the public’s right to know. Because he sometimes challenged federal and state Indian policies, exposed corruption in tribal governments, advocated for more transparency and accountability from tribal and non-tribal policymakers, and pushed for open meetings versus secrecy, the sale of his paper was banned in many tribal enterprises across Minnesota.

May Lawrence’s legacy help fuel the public’s right to know!

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