FALL 2001


Instructor: Dr. L. Tripp Office: Stewart Hall 340

Telephone: 255-3913 E-mail: lstripp@stcloudstate.edu

URL: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/lstripp/


Indian Fishing Rights:

Why Are They Special?


Amanda Fritz

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Race Relations in America

Community Studies 111

October 3, 2001

Dr. Luke Tripp

Many people have questions regarding the fishing rights of American Indians, especially the bands living around Lake Mille Lacs. Throughout this paper I will attempt to explain the regulations that the American Indians follow to aid in the better understanding of the question, why are they special?

In 1990, the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians sued the state of Minnesota, asserting that an 1837 treaty with the United States government gave them the right to hunt, fish and gather free of state regulation on land ceded in the treaty. The 1837 treaty states: "The privilege of hunting, fishing and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guarantied to the Indians, during the pleasure of the President of the United States." The treaty was signed by the federal government and the Chippewa 21 years before Minnesota became a state. However, a President can revoke the 1837 treaty privileges, now or in the future. In 1990, in an attempt to avoid a lengthy court battle, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed a negotiated settlement. That proposal would have required the band to withdraw their lawsuit, limit the Lake Mille Lacs walleye harvest to 24,000 pounds per year, and adhere to a band conservation code. In return, the state would give the band $8.6 million, 7,500 acres of land, and exclusive fishing rights on 4.5% of Lake Mille Lacs. The agreement also allowed traditional spear fishing and netting practices. During 1993 legislators opposed to the settlement argued that the use of gill nets would decimate the walleye population and harm tourism. Treaty proponents argued that the use of gill nets and spears were important components of Indian culture and religion and that their use would be limited. On August 24, 1994, United States District Court Judge Diana Murphy ruled that the Mille Lacs band retained the hunting, fishing and gathering rights granted to them in the 1837 treaty. January 29, 1997 District Court Judge MichaelDavis ruled that the band's fishing and hunting activities in the twelve-countyregion were to be regulated by the band's Conservation Code, rather than by the state's fish and game rules. In December 1999 United States District Court Judge Michael Davis ordered the state of Minnesota to pay the legal expenses of the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa and six other bands. They were awarded a total of $3.95 million.

The state and Chippewa bands are currently in their second year implementing a court-ordered five year Conservation Code and Management Plan, which provides for the bands to gradually increase their taking of fish and game. It is unclear what hunting, fishing and gathering the bands intend to implement after the Conservation Code and Management Plan expires in three years. "There is no guarantee beyond the fifth year as far as how many fish and deer the bands will take," said Minnesota DNR spokesperson Marcie Dowse after the Eighth Circuit's ruling in 1997.

The DNR has to negotiate the safe harvest level of walleyes with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), which represents the bands. Surprisingly GLIFWC usually wants a safeharvest level that's much lower than the DNR's. The figure agreed upon by the DNR and the bands, and stipulated in a federal court order, is 24%. Each year 20 &endash; 30% of a walleye population dies of natural causes; added to the 24% safeharvest, that represents a total of one-third to one-half of the population killed each year. Any more than that would cut into the populations' ability to sustain itself. The DNR manages all the other major walleyel akes at 24% or lower. Beginning in1998, the Indians quota was 40,000 out of a total harvest quota for sport andband combined of 260,1000 pounds (15%), and it had increased each year by 15,000 pounds. This year (2001) it is 85,000 pounds out of a combined quota of 395,000 pounds (21%). It will go up 100,000 next year. Members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe netted Lake Mille Lacs last week (September 9 &endash; 15, 2001), marking the first tribal netting attempts of the late summer/fall, according to Rick Bruesewitz,1837 Treaty biologist for the Minnesota DNR. Tribal members netted 63 pounds of walleye. To date, members of the Mille Lacs Band, along with the Fond du Lac Band in Minnesota and six Ojibwe bands from Wisconsin, have harvested by net about 45,100 pounds of walleye; their quota for this year is 85,000 in accordance with an agreement reached with the Minnesota DNR. Non-band member harvest was limited to 310,000 pounds of walleye this year. As of earlier this week, sport anglers had harvested about 268,000 pounds of fish.

One widely held view amongst sportsmen is that Native Americans hunting and fishing with no limits is draining our already pressured fisheries and to a lesser extent our game populations. This is such a big deal because so much of Minnesota's prime hunting and fishing areas are in or next to Native American reservations. The DNR changed the walleye fishing regulation on Lake Mille Lacs as of June 5, 2001. Sportsmen are upset about the new regulation because the regulation says that non-band anglers must release walleyes smaller than 16 inches and larger than 18 inches; however, they may keep one that is over 30 inches long.

Although non-band members, both anglers and non-anglers tend to get upset with the special regulations Indians have, one must keep in mind that although they do have special rights, they never go beyond their quota and don't harm the safely and health of the state's natural resources. There are plenty of fish in Lake Mille Lacs, as well as other lakes, I don't think we need to worry just yet about there not being any walleyes to harvest, with or without the Indians special regulations.  

Works Cited

Anonymous. Resources on Minnesota Issues Indian Fishing and Hunting Rights.

August 1996. Retreived from the World Wide Web on September 29, 2001 from


Minnesota DNR Division of Fisheries. Hot Topic: Lake Mille Lacs Walleye

Regulations, Answers to Common Questions. August 2001. Retreived from the

World Wide Web on September 29, 2001 from www.dnr.state.mn.us/hot_topics/080301.html

Minnesota DNR Division of Fisheries. Hot Topic: Mille Lacs Walleye Slot Limit Change. June 2001. Retreived from the World Wide Web on September 29, 2001 from www.drn.state.mn.us/hot_topics/080301.html

Gustafson, Sam; Pemberton, Mitch; Veldihuizen, Kyle. Native American Hunting and Fishing Rights. Retreived from the World Wide Web on September 29, 2001 from www.fortunecity.com/business/cash/1592/index.htm

Drieslein, Rob. "Outdoor News: Sportman's Weekly." New Fishing Limits Not Likely in 2002. September 21,2001