- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

NISSWA, Minn. (AP) - Conservation officers issued citations to two tribal members who attempted to net fish on Gull Lake in Nisswa on Friday, the second day of efforts by activists to assert rights they say they hold under an 1855 treaty.

The confrontation happened just across Highway 371 from Hole-in-the-Day Lake, where other Chippewa Indians harvested wild rice without state licenses Friday. A day earlier, the Department of Natural Resources tried to defuse the conflict by issuing a special one-day permit to supporters of the 1855 Treaty Authority to allow them to harvest wild rice there without the need for licenses - and without the risk of citations.

Three DNR conservation offers asked the fish-netters to stop as they were paddling to shore, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. But the two men landed their canoe and left the scene. The DNR later cited the men, identified as Todd Thompson of the White Earth band and Jim Northrop of the Fond du Lac band. The officers did not confiscate their canoe and returned the gillnet.

Arthur “Archie” LaRose, chairman of the 1855 Treaty Authority and secretary-treasurer of the Leech Lake band, said the officers would have played “hard ball” and seized the canoe if there weren’t so many media cameras at the scene.

While the DNR’s enforcement chief, Col. Ken Soring, had warned that anyone ricing without a license risked a citation or confiscation of their rice and equipment, no officers were spotted on Hole-in-the-Day Lake on Friday morning.

The two sides disagree on whether band members have special off-reservation fishing, gathering and hunting rights on territory that the Chippewa ceded under the 1855 treaty, and the question has not been tested in court. The 1855 Treaty Authority, which is independent of Minnesota’s tribal governments, has been looking for cases that could force a ruling.

Capt. Tom Provost of the DNR told Minnesota Public Radio that the final decision on whether to file formal gross misdemeanor charges of gillnetting without a permit would be up to Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan.

White Earth band tribal attorney Joe Plumer said that the effort to find a test case may remain stalled if Ryan doesn’t file charges against Thompson and Northrop.

Ryan said he would make his decision after reviewing the reports from the officers.

Unlike the 1837 treaty between the federal government and the Mille Lacs Band, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1999 and covers a different territory, the 1855 treaty doesn’t explicitly say anything about off-reservation hunting, fishing and gathering rights. But the group contends the treaty, backed by case law and federal statutes, guarantees those rights anyway.

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