Tribal protesters plead not guilty to illegal fish, rice harvest

Getting a ticket
Conservation Officer Tim Collette issues a ticket to White Earth member Todd Thompson for setting a gillnet in Gull Lake on Aug. 28, 2015. Thompson and three other Ojibwe tribe members plead not guilty Monday to charges of gathering wild rice and gillnetting without permits.
Vickie Kettlewell | For MPR News 2015

Four Ojibwe tribe members plead not guilty Monday in Crow Wing County District Court to charges of gathering wild rice and gillnetting without permits during a treaty rights protest last summer.

In August 2015, a group of tribe members from across Minnesota gathered at Hole-in-the-Day Lake near Nisswa, Minn., to harvest wild rice in an attempt to strengthen hunting and gathering rights under the 1855 Treaty. At the time, Morningstar Shabaiash and Harvey Goodsky were cited for gathering wild rice.

White Earth member Todd Thompson, and Fond du Lac Band member James Northrup set a 6-by-200 foot gillnet in Gull Lake, and were cited as well.

They were all charged a few months later, and appeared Monday morning with friends and family in a Crow Wing County court room.

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The appearance is just the first step in what could be a long court battle to clarify treaty rights. Ojibwe tribes signed a large swath of northern Minnesota over to U.S. Government in 1855. Tribe members believe they maintain the right to hunt, fish and gather on ceded lands, but the state disagrees.

Tribal attorneys Joe Plumer and Frank Bibeau, who represented all four tribe members, warned the court they plan to argue for dismissal at the next hearing.

"We'll ask the court to dismiss the case," Bibeau said, "because the state has no jurisdiction. Treaties are between the tribe and the federal government."

They'll make their arguments at a hearing in April. After that, Bibeau plans to ask a federal court to step in and mediate a deal between the tribes and the state. He believes a federal judge will force the state to acknowledge treaty rights.

"We want to co-manage resources with the state," he said. "We have a good case."