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1855 Treaty group announces off-reservation rice harvest

A group advocating for the treaty rights of northern Minnesota Chippewa tribes plans an off-reservation wild rice harvest, risking law enforcement action.

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In a modern highway map provided by the tribe, the 1855 treaty the territory boundary is indicated by the pink line. The 1855 Treaty Authority sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton dated Aug. 7 in which it announced its intention to hold the harvest in territory ceded in the year 1855 between the Chippewa tribes and the United States. Submitted.

A group advocating for the treaty rights of northern Minnesota Chippewa tribes plans an off-reservation wild rice harvest, risking law enforcement action.

The 1855 Treaty Authority sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton dated Aug. 7 in which it announced its intention to hold the harvest in territory ceded in the year 1855 between the Chippewa tribes and the United States.

A Dayton spokesperson said Monday the governor had just returned from a state visit to Mexico and had not yet read the letter. Dayton will respond to the Treaty Authority after he has had a chance to review the letter with administration officials, the spokesperson said.

The letter to Dayton said in the event Department of Natural Resources conservation officers "feel the need to write state citations, we caution against seizure of any wild rice or harvesting equipment from anyone with a tribal identification card."

The Treaty Authority said in a release Monday the wild rice harvest would occur on Hole-in-the-Day Lake south of Nisswa Aug. 27, in solidarity with several water quality events the same day, including one from Honor the Earth, an American Indian protest group against the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline.

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The Authority said they were dissatisfied with the way the state had handled the permitting process so far for the pipeline.

"It has become apparent through the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission process that without tribal and public citizens involvement, the PUC would just be giving away our most precious environmental resources and allowing a new Enbridge pipeline route through the treaty ceded territories," the letter said.

Enbridge Energy plans for the pipeline to stretch more than 600 miles from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

The PUC granted a certificate of need for the overall project in June. The process now moves into approving the specific route for the pipeline, and the Authority is concerned the route may run near wild rice beds.

Frank Bibeau, acting as a spokesperson for the Authority, is also the attorney representing Honor the Earth in PUC hearings on permitting the pipeline. Contacted Monday, he said the DNR has jurisdiction over managing wild rice, but municipal and state laws do not supercede tribal members' treaty rights, Bibeau said.

"We realize they may still have an urge to give us a ticket, and we can argue it in court, but we know they don't have any real right," he said.

In addition, the rice harvest is intended to get the state to recognize it doesn't have the "unilateral right" to grant a certificate of need to the pipeline since it would violate treaty rights that predate Minnesota's statehood itself, Bibeau said.

"They don't fully understand our authority," he said. "We want to use those rights to protect our environment."

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Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman in May 2014 ruled that the 1855 treaty "does not forbid creation of new rights of way on the land that was sold in 1855," and that the treaty couldn't be used to stop the pipeline.

Forum News Service contributed to this report.

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

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