The Leech Lake Chippewa Tribal Council said on Thursday that it has not authorized a threatened fishing protest by band members on May 14, a day before the opening of the state's walleye and northern pike seasons, and urged protesters to stay home.
"The band's legal department jumped the gun" in saying the protest would be held, said Mike Bongo, one of five Leech Lake Tribal Council members. "The band always seeks to use diplomacy first."
On Wednesday, Leech Lake band tribal attorney Frank Bibeau and band 1855 treaty coordinator Dale Greene said the protest would be held to assert treaty rights that the band, together with the White Earth Chippewa band, believes it reserved under treaties signed with the federal government in 1854 and 1855.
"The Council understands the desire of the Leech Lake people to exercise hunting, fishing and gathering rights under the 1855," tribal chairman Arthur LaRose said in a statement. "However, we need to sit at the table with the state and do our best to resolve the issues presented by the 1855 treaty in a diplomatic process."
Bongo and others worried about the reaction such a protest could provoke. "This has the potential to set back community relations for us many, many years, something we're not interested in doing," Bongo said.
White Earth band representatives couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
On Wednesday, DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said no one from the bands had spoken to him or anyone in the Pawlenty administration about treaty rights or a protest.
Bongo said on Thursday that his band will try to meet with Holsten as early as next week. "We welcome the opportunity to sit down with the commissioner and the governor, if he's available, to see what we can find in terms of middle ground," Bongo said.
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424