Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Minn. official called treaty rights 'apartheid'
TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2003
The head of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources told an anti-Indian group last month that tribal hunting and fishing rights are based on a system of "apartheid."
DNR commissioner Gene Merriam spoke at an April 27 fund-raiser for Proper Economic Resource Management (PERM), a group opposed to treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. "I think that any system of apartheid based upon race is inherently misdirected," he was quoted as saying in the May 2 issue of the Outdoor News, a weekly publication.
Although Merriam said he wasn't making official state policy, eight tribal leaders have asked for his resignation. In a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), they called the remarks "outrageous."
"Comparing the legal exercise of treaty rights with one of history's most brutal and racist systems of government is outrageous and should be condemned by all Minnesotans," the tribes wrote.
But Pawlenty, in a subsequent statement, said he wouldn't fire Merriam. And Merriam, who was appointed by Pawlenty in January, offered an apology to the tribes. "I fully respect and recognize the importance of their treaty rights," he said in a separate statement.
As a state senator, Merriam opposed a proposed treaty rights settlement with the tribes. As DNR commissioner, he is responsible for overseeing the state's recognition of those rights.
In a April 30 article published in The Mille Lacs Messenger, Merriam said PERM raised "good questions" about way his department is carrying out the settlement. According to the article, he is seeking legal guidance from the state attorney general.
"The issues aren't always clear and there's no guarantee that with your input we'll make good public policy decisions," he was quoted as saying.
Merriam also said he would be open to ending commercial fishing by tribal members.
"It merits approaching the tribes that wish to do this and exploring alternatives," he told the group, the article reported. "What will it take the state to offer to get them not to do that? It's worth exploring."
Prior to the PERM fund-raiser, Merriam met with a lawyer for the group. He also said he met recently with Curt Kalk, the natural resources commissioner for the Mille Lacs Ojibwe Band.
Treaty rights in the Midwest have long been a sore point, occasionally leading to violence. But anti-tribal sentiments seemed to have abated after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision issued March 1999, upheld the off-reservation treaty rights of the eight Ojibwe tribes.
Before the decision was reached, the state proposed a settlement with the Ojibwe tribes but it was defeated in the Legislature. At the time, PERM praised Merriam for voting against it.
Several anti-Indian groups, including PERM and the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA), have close ties to organizations like the United Citizens for Equal Rights (UCE), which has recently made inroads in upstate New York, and United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW). The latter group was started by former U.S. congressman Jack Metcalf (R), a vocal opponent of treaty rights.
From KARE 11:
Tribal Leaders Ask DNR Commissioner To Resign Over Comments
From the Pioneer Press, 5/13/03:
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Tribal leaders protest DNR commissioner's remarks
In their letter to Pawlenty, the tribal leaders said, "Mr. Merriam compared Indians' exercise of their treaty rights to apartheid." The leaders also referred to Merriam's comments on seeking a presidential order.
"We hope you agree with us that Mr. Merriam's comments were offensive, hostile and completely unacceptable," the leaders wrote Pawlenty. "Comparing the legal exercise of treaty rights with one of history's most brutal and racist systems of government is outrageous and should be condemned by all Minnesotans."
It is critical for a DNR commissioner "to be an impartial referee on issues that arise between Indians, as they exercise their legal treaty rights, and the sportsmen and women of our state," the leaders wrote. "To have a DNR commissioner display this kind of obvious bias against Indians that Mr. Merriam has done is intolerable. Therefore, we respectfully request that you ask for Mr. Merriam's resignation from his position as DNR commissioner."
A Pawlenty spokesman said he had no plans to ask for Merriam's resignation. But the governor quickly issued a statement disavowing his appointee's comments.
He said Merriam's remarks "describing tribal hunting and fishing rights were unfortunate and did not reflect the policy of my administration."
"Apartheid, or segregation based on race, is an abhorrent chapter in human history," Pawlenty said. "The special hunting and fishing privileges enjoyed by Native Americans in Minnesota are the result of legal rights granted to them. Many of these rights have been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. Decisions by our legal system should be respected by all Minnesotans."
From the Duluth News Tribune, 5/13/03:
DNR commissioner apologizes to state's American Indians
"The commissioner of the DNR ought to know that treaty rights, hunting and fishing rights, are not based on race — they're based on treaties," said Deschampe, reached before Pawlenty and Merriam issued their statements. He added that the suggestion of seeking a presidential order that would change current practice is "kind of scary."
From the Star Tribune:
Tribes want DNR chief out after apartheid remark
The use of the word "apartheid," usually used to describe the history of white supremacist laws and oppression of blacks in South Africa, drew the strongest reaction in the tribal leaders' letter.
"Comparing the legal exercise of treaty rights with one of history's most brutal and racist systems of government is outrageous and should be condemned by all Minnesotans," the letter says.
The facts about tribal sovereignty
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