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Tribal waters at issue: Red Lakers, GOP discuss sovereignty

Brad Swenson
Bemidji Pioneer

Published Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tempers wore thin Monday night as Red Lakers confronted Beltrami County Republicans over tribal sovereignty claims.

But the target of the anger 7th District U.S. House GOP candidate Michael Barrett was a no-show to the Beltrami County GOP fund-raiser.

As about 45 Republican supporters sat in the Lake Bemidji waterfront Rotary Pavilion to hear campaign speeches, about 40 more people lined the edge of the pavilion, ready to question candidates about tribal sovereignty.

Barrett, a Little Falls pharmacy manager, scheduled a 5:30 p.m. news conference at the waterfront in the middle of the 4-7 p.m. fund-raiser to announce his support for the federal government to enforce a 1926 U.S. Supreme Court decision giving the state of Minnesota jurisdiction over a drained lakebed on the edge of the Red Lake Reservation.

That ruling, he said, and others following it, should be interpreted as giving the state of Minnesota jurisdiction of all the waters on the Red Lake Reservation, he said in a statement announcing the news conference.

Barrett said he believes "Red Lake should be managed for use by the state of Minnesota and appropriate agencies so that the entirety of Red Lake is available for use by all Americans."

A story about the news conference in Sunday's Pioneer apparently invigorated both sides. Beltrami County Republicans hadn't been informed of the news conference, figuring that Barrett would speak to the fund-raiser as did a host of other candidates.

Members of the American Indian community took notice, too, and arranged a crowd to protest at the fund-raiser, a crowd that was slightly diminished when it was learned that Barrett canceled his trip to Bemidji because of a "schedule conflict," as he said in an e-mail late Sunday to Beltrami County GOP officers.

They made it clear that Red Lake is a sovereign nation, that the state has no ownership rights.

"I'm very glad they came," Beltrami County GOP Chairwoman Kath Molitor said of the protesters. "It was not us that started it, it was not Doug (Lindgren) that wanted this to happen. Mike Barrett, without our knowledge, called a press conference. We did not know a thing about it."

Lindgren, the House 2B Republican hoping to regain the seat he lost in 2004 to DFLer Brita Sailer, has also embraced the Red Lake issue as part of his campaign. But Molitor insists that Lindgren just seeks answers as to who has jurisdiction of the lakes, not that he is advocating they be turned back to state control.

Lindgren broached the issue as part of his speech, which drew an angered reaction from Red Lake Tribal Secretary Jody Beaulieu, alleging that such a position is racist. Lindgren vehemently disagreed, leading to a short shouting match.

"It got out of hand, and it was not nice," Molitor said. What Barrett is embracing "is not the issues Doug is worrying about and is not the issues that Doug is dealing with."

The issue stems from a May 28 seizure by Red Lake Department of Natural Resources officers of a boat and tackle of a Princeton, Minn., man who strayed onto reservation waters. It prompted an inquiry by two state senators and Proper Economic Resource Management, the group which led efforts to define jurisdiction of Mille Lacs Lake in the 1990s.

PERM, in a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, believes the state has ownership of the lakes and asks Pawlenty to order the state DNR to manage them. "We feel it is your responsibility with the state DNR to begin managing all of Red Lake for all citizens of Minnesota. The tribal people of the United States are American citizens by treaty, acts of Congress, and by birth, and should be treated equally as such."

Molitor said that goes further than what Lindgren seeks. He seeks to know "what are the rights when somebody goes up to Red Lake, what are the laws that cover that. He doesn't want to take any rights away, he doesn't want anybody to be mad. He just wants a clarification."

Lindgren has said that his first bill, if elected, would be to have the state seek that clarification.

Such action is needed, she said, to prevent boat seizures, and also the 2001 case where a pilot landed on Lower Red Lake during the winter to ice fish and had the plane seized.

"The airplane being taken away, the boat being taken away, we need a clarification so that the things that have happened in the last couple of years don't happen," Molitor said. "It's because of ignorance on our part that it is happening."

Barrett overstepped his bounds by attempting to turn a fund-raiser into an event for his campaign, one that isn't well received even by fellow Republicans here, she said.

"He went about it in the same way Mike is going about everything head down and head first, like a bull in china shot," Molitor said. "You can handle a lot of issues that way, and there are some issues you can't. And this is one issue you cannot."

Barrett's action also didn't sit well with several long-time county Republicans.

"My position is he's not speaking for many of the Republicans who live in Beltrami County," said Rick Hoff, a former county GOP chairman.

"There are issues that need to be resolved but in cooperation with Red Lake," said Ken Glidden, a former state Senate candidate. "They need to be part of the solution. They are our neighbors, part of Beltrami County.

"I was offended by it," Glidden said of Barrett's news conference.

The issue took U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, the GOP-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, by surprise, as he was questioned on Indian sovereignty.

"It is something that is well established in federal law," he said. "We don't get a chance to deal with this much federally. The important thing is we need to honor the law that is on the books and to work closely with our communities to make sure that it is being abided."

Asked about the current Red Lake controversy, Kennedy said he lacked information and has never visited Red Lake, "but would certainly love to do so."

The best thing he's found in tribal relationships, he said, "it's always best with the two communities, instead of one trying to trump one another, is to deal with this in a way that is cooperative spirit as much as possible."

Darrell Seki, Red Lake tribal treasurer who attended the fund-raiser, said he hopes more Republicans do come to Red Lake.

"We stand strong in protecting our lakes, land, our territories and our reservation," Seki said. "It's our lake. We own it and we're going to protect it."

Added Seki: "Any non-members are welcome to come to our lake, and I hope they bring their best equipment, because our DNR needs equipment. Tell the non-members to come to our lake we'll arrest them. We'll take their equipment also."

Asked about the 1926 Supreme Court decision in contention, Seki said that "it's our lake, it will stay our lake. We, as a Tribal Council, will protect our lake and our people. All the lands are ours and we're going to protect them.

"That's why we're here," he said.

Also in the group was Leech Lake Tribal Secretary/Treasurer Arthur "Archie" LaRose.

The Leech Lake Tribal Council issued a statement in support of Red Lake earlier Monday, saying it "adamantly opposed" any effort to threaten Red Lake's jurisdiction over 80 percent of the Red Lakes.

"Upper and Lower Red Lake are the ancestral waters of the Red Lake Nation and the ability to regulate those waters cuts to the heart of tribal sovereignty and the tribe's ability to maintain and sustain these waters," the Leech Lake Tribal Council statement said. "Any attempt to limit or do away with the Red Lake Nation's ability to regulate their own waters is a major step toward extinguishing tribal rights throughout the state."

State Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who also attended the event, said that treaties over 100 years old have long established who controls what parts of Red Lake.

"It's time to put this divisive stuff behind us and continue working together to make Minnesota an even better place to live," Moe said. "We've made great strides working together for common goals such as bringing Red Lake's signature walleye back from the brink. We can only continue to prosper by working together."

Rob's comment
Tribal members, like many other groups of Americans, have rights and privileges not available to everyone. For instance, people must be 18 to vote and 35 to run for president. Parents can take a tax deduction for their children. Veterans get lifelong health care. Etc. In the case of Indians, the US Constitution affirmed their sovereignty and treaties gave them control over territory such as Red Lake.

Related links
Indian rights = special rights
The facts about tribal sovereignty

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