Planned wild rice harvest to test 1855 treaty rights

Wild Rice harvest
Joe Hoagland, left, pushes a canoe through a wild rice bed in White Earth, Minn., as 14-year-old Chris Salazar learns how to harvest the rice by knocking the grain off the stalks with two sticks. A group calling itself the 1855 Treaty Authority is planning a wild rice harvest outside Nisswa Thursday that is outside the bounds of state law and DNR policy -- but that the group says is within the bounds of a 19th century treaty with the U.S.
Jim Mone | Associated Press

Members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota are planning a wild rice harvest this week to test their rights under an 1855 treaty with the U.S. government.

Members of the group, which calls itself the 1855 Treaty Authority, said they will not apply for a permit for the Thursday harvest, which will be held at Hole-in-the-Day Lake near Nisswa, Minn.

The move would be a direct challenge to state law and Department of Natural Resources regulations, which require a license for harvesting wild rice on areas outside of reservation land. It is among a series of challenges to interpretations of 19th century treaties struck between the federal government and Minnesota's Native American tribes. The group said it is trying to assert the rights granted to them under those treaties.

The DNR has warned that the group could be subject to prosecution if members go through with the harvest as planned.

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"If DNR comes out and they cite someone with a ticket, we are going to cause the state of Minnesota to have to come and defend their actions in federal court," said Frank Bibeau, an attorney who represents the group. "And if that happens, ... I believe we can get an injunction against the state of Minnesota DNR for doing any of these things any more."

Bibeau said the group hopes that the wild rice challenge can also apply to other treaty rights matters, such as state approvals of oil pipelines across northern Minnesota.

"I think ... it's going to be discovered, finally, by Minnesota, that they have been opressing us and preventing us from gathering food for the last 50 years," Bibeau said, "just because they want to enforce their laws and save the game and fish for other people and charge for it."

White Earth band members made a similar challenge in 2010, when they set fishing nets in Lake Bemidji and said a treaty gave them rights to hunt and fish outside state regulations or seasons.