DNR grants one-day permit, avoids treaty rights court battle

Ken Soring spoke with Frank Bibeau and Dale Green.
Ken Soring, director of enforcement for the Minnesota DNR, spoke after shaking hands with Dale Green shortly after delivering a one-day permit to harvest wild rice on Hole-in-the-Day Lake near Nisswa Thursday. Frank Bibeau, a White Earth member and attorney, is at center.
Vickie Kettlewell for MPR News

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Thursday issued a special event permit allowing tribal members to collect wild rice on Hole-in-the-Day Lake, located near Nisswa, Minn.

In a move to strengthen hunting and gathering rights under the 1855 Treaty, dozens of tribal members from White Earth and Leech Lake bands came to Hole-in-the-Day Lake in the early morning to gather wild rice without required state permits.

They planned to be issued citations by DNR enforcement officers, hoping to cement off reservation hunting and gathering rights in a series of court appeals.

The special permit skirts the court battle for the time being, but band members warned they might try ricing or netting on another off reservation lake tomorrow, or in the near future.

Leonard Thompson, seated, prepared to harvest rice
Leonard Thompson, seated, prepared to harvest some of the wild rice at Hole-in-the-Day Lake.
Vickie Kettlewell for MPR News

Ken Soring, the DNR's enforcement chief said the permit was meant to "de-escalate" the ricing situation on Hole-in-the-Day. At least temporarily, it seems to have worked.

Leonard Thompson, a White Earth member was the first to arrive at the Hole-in-the-Day landing, a swampy area off a busy section of Highway 371. He had two canoes in the back of his truck, both of which he planned to lose to DNR enforcement officers.

"My grandfather told me the treaty rights would come back one day," he said, "and now it's happening."

The effort on Hole-in-the-Day was not his first. He's done it before, fishing on Mille Lacs Lake more than 20 years ago, and more recently on Lake Bemidji.

He hoped the same tactic might work again, but before any ricing canoes were carried to the water, Soring arrived with a manila envelope and handed it to Frank Bibeau, an attorney for the 1855 Treaty Authority, the group planning the event.

"I have here a special permit to harvest rice without licenses," he said. "To help commemorate Chief Hole in The Day, and the importance of wild rice."

Bibeau took the permit and shook Soring's hand.

"I'm glad to see that," Bibeau said. "I'm sure everyone else here is glad to see it too."

Tearing up the permit
About an hour and half after the start of wild ricing, a special meeting was called of the 1855 Treaty Rights Authority. There was one agenda item, and a quorum of its board, who voted to destroy the one-day permit issued to the group earlier by the DNR.
Vickie Kettlewell for MPR News

But many on the swampy shores of Hole-in-the-Day were not happy to see it. Arthur LaRose, chairman of the 1855 Treaty Authority, said the permit was a cheap way for the DNR to avoid the treaty issue.

"We shouldn't need a special permit," he said. "We should be able to go anywhere at any time an exercise our rights."

Soring said the state does not believe the 1855 Treaty grants tribes off reservation hunting and gathering rights. He said the DNR will enforce state law, after the permit expires.

By not giving out citations on Hole in The Day, the DNR avoids a court battle over treaty rights. But Thompson said he and his group of treaty rights advocates will try again, tomorrow or in the near future.

"Eventually they'll have to let us into the courts," he said.