Four Minnesota Chippewa tribal members pleaded not guilty Monday to violating state fishing and wild rice harvesting laws in a case that stems from a protest last summer over the exercise of treaty rights.
The four were charged with misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors in Crow Wing County.
The case began when they intentionally harvested wild rice and caught fish to create a legal challenge in an ongoing disagreement between some tribal bands and the state over the extent of their hunting and gathering rights on non- reservation land.
Jim Northrup of Cloquet and Todd Thompson of Naytahwaush are charged with gross misdemeanors for setting gill nets in Gull Lake in Nisswa. Harvey and Morningstar Goodsky, both of McGregor, are charged with misdemeanors for harvesting wild rice without a license on Hole-in-the-Day Lake.
Last August they publicized their plan to fish and harvest wild rice out of season in order to provoke a court challenge to Minnesota's interpretation of an 1855 treaty. The state argues that the bands gave up hunting, fishing and gathering rights when they sold a giant patch of North Woods land to the federal government in 1855.
The bands argue they did not intend to give up those rights and that they are protected just as in 1837 and 1854 treaties.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says the 1855 treaty does not make any reference to hunting and fishing in those territories.
"Not only do we disagree, it's a claim that is inconsistent with the treaties," said Sherry Enzler, a DNR attorney. "The two earlier documents clearly state that the tribes retain hunting and fishing rights, but the 1855 treaty does not," she said. "There is no parallel language," she said.
Frank Bibeau, an attorney for the tribal members, said they hope to raise the dispute in federal court. Bibeau said he hopes to prevail in federal court, just as Chippewa bands in the Arrowhead region and around Lake Mille Lacs did in two previous cases.