Mille Lacs gill-netting: biggest scam on state's outdoor sceneBy Joe Fellegy
Outdoor News, April 14, 2010
I've strongly opposed the only spawning-time walleye gill-net fishery in the United States, without feeling guilty.
Ponder the high-impact Mille Lacs monster: enormous walleye totals, plus tons of unwanted and wasted pike; a giant cultural affront to most Minnesotans, who embrace closed seasons during spawning; gross misrepresentation of Ojibwe culture and history for political purposes; taxpayer millions for tribal, federal, and state management bureaucracies; disproportionately high tribal fish allocations; a tradition of go-with-the-flow acquiescence among state officials, who lost an air-tight case and helped shape the present intolerable system.
Consider, too, the hands-off approaches by journalists, politicians, and the conservation community. And there's the modern separate-and-unequal race politics - central to the new tribal "sovereignty" - that celebrates differences instead of commonalities.
Almost 20 years ago, the Mille Lacs Band government launched its unnecessary 1837 Treaty case against a generous state that signed compacts for two Mille Lacs Band casinos. Had one polled Band members in 1990 about a spawning-time gill-net fishery, it's likely 90-plus percent would have said no. Unfortunately, the Indian Industry, not the Indian people, ran the show.
In the early 1990s, I attended parties hosted by the late Ron Maddox, St. Paul bar owner, tribal lobbyist, and DFL activist who helped transfer Mille Lacs Band government to the modern Indian Industry's network of consultants, lawyers, lobbyists, p. r. firms, and advocacy groups. Band leader Marge Anderson told us that Mille Lacs Band members generally weren't interested in exercising 1837 fishing rights. Similarly, Don Wedll, the longtime non-Indian mind and voice of the Mille Lacs Band, assured the Minnesota Sportfishing Congress (MSC) there'd be no Wisconsin-style treaty fracas, since the Mille Lacs Band needed only several dozen walleyes annually for ceremonies. (Then why the lawsuit?)
Historically, no Mille Lacs leader made 1837 fishing a cause. After all, in the 1855 Treaty the Band relinquished "all rights, title, and interest of whatsoever nature" in the 1837 Treaty area. In the 1990s, as anglers increasingly worried about gill nets, tribal elder Betty Kegg asked me to explain the fuss over nets and fish. She told me, "Most Indians here don't care about fishing!"
No historic rights cause? Indians uninterested in fishing? True. But the new sovereignty had other aims, here and across the country: expand jurisdiction for tribal governments - management authority, political power, and money. Following treaty-rights hassles in Wisconsin, Mille Lacs Band policymakers played on Minnesota fears. They coaxed state personnel, especially from the Sando DNR and the Humphrey Attorney General's Office, into secret negotiations towards a "settlement" to be okayed by the Legislature and by a federal court. Key components of the failed settlement effort: A. Race-based partitioning of Mille Lacs Lake with a Mille Lacs Band "tribal exclusive zone" off the west shore - reminiscent of segregated facilities in the old south. (Had the other seven 1837 Chippewa bands gained similar zones, the total would have covered half the lake.) B. $8 to $10 million for Mille Lacs Band government. C. 7,500 to 15,000 acres of Minnesota public land (not detailed for the public). D. Redefinition of Mille Lacs Indian Reservation - 15 times larger than the one on your highway map.
Related points. . .