Politics blamed for holding up Ojibwe treaty rights issue

Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday that a Minnesota Indian, Aaron White Sr., is waiting to be charged for breaking a state law during a fishing protest in May. Apparently, some tribal citizens suspect the political nature of the issue is keeping his case on hold.

White broke a state law when he gill net fished in Lake Bemidji the day before the walleye fishing opener. The demonstration was designed to exercise what some Ojibwe say are treaty-based rights to hunt and fish throughout much of northern Minnesota.

White believes his ancestors never gave up the right to hunt and fish wherever they please, regardless of state regulations or seasons. Some Ojibwe in northern Minnesota point to a treaty signed with the federal government in 1855. White said the fishing demonstration was a way to put the state on notice that the Ojibwe plan to exercise those rights.

DNR seizes his nets in May and he wants to be charged for his gill netting activity so the issue can be decided in the courts. He also wants his nets back.

Right now it’s unclear if White will ever be charged. DNR enforcement officers turned the case over to the Beltrami County Attorney’s office.

County Attorney Tim Faver declined to speak on tape for this story. But he confirmed in an e-mail he believes the case has statewide implications and should be in the hands of state prosecutors.
Faver thinks the issue will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Some Ojibwe band members believe the treaty issue has become a political football. Bob Shimek was one of the organizers of the fishing demonstration in Bemidji. Shimek said White has the civil right to a speedy trial, which can’t happen without charges.

Tribal leaders have criticized civil disobedience demonstrations, saying they favor direct talks with the state.
The so-called 1855 Conservation Code has already been approved by White Earth’s tribal council. The Leech Lake Band is working on a similar code. The measures would require band members to purchase tribal permits to hunt and fish off-reservation within the 1855 treaty territory. Tribal members without permits would be referred to the tribal court system rather than face citations from the state.

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