MENOMINEE TREATY RIGHTS
| On September 17, 1996, Federal Judge
Barbara Crabb dismissed the Menominee suit for off-reservation
treaty rights. While Crabb acknowledged the Menominee treaty signers
may have been misled about the treaty language, she claimed that
the language denied Menominee rights once the off-reservation
land was sold to settlers.The tribe is appealing the decision.
The 7th Circuit Couirt of Appeals upheld Crabb's 1996 ruling
on November 18, 1998.
Hunting, Fishing Suit by Cary Segall
Menominee Indian Reservation a success story for sturgeon
By John J. Archibald
of the Oshkosh Northwestern
July 12, 2001
A successful project to restore sturgeon to the Menominee Indian
Reservation offers hope that the fish may repopulate other places.
Threats to sturgeon populations in Europe have brought attention
to the United States for its management techniques that preserve the
About 400 environmentalists are attending the International Symposium
on Sturgeon this week at the Park Plaza Hotel in Oshkosh, to discuss
problems and solutions affecting the species.
In 1993, residents of the Menominee Indian Reservation north of
Shawano celebrated the return of the sturgeon to its lakes. The sturgeon
has significance in the Menominee culture as the younger brother of
the bear, said Ann Runstrom of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We've stocked more than 30,000 lake sturgeon in the reservation
lakes" since 1994, Runstrom said. "All these sturgeon were hatched
from Wolf River strains."
"It's been very exciting for me to see lake sturgeon restored to
the Menominee culture," Runstrom said.
After the successful reintroduction of sturgeon, a 1994 Menominee
Reservation Lake sturgeon Management Plan was developed. The plan
outlines how to address the issues of habitat, law enforcement, disease
control and public education and their connection to the propagation
of the lake sturgeon.
"Wisconsin is fortunate that they have a lake sturgeon population
where there are harvest opportunities," said Karl Scheidegger, a fisheries
biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Wisconsin has a Sturgeon Management Assessment Team formed in 1997
to plan future management of the species. He shared details of the
plan, including a call for the removal of dams as inhibitors to upstream
movement of sturgeon. Little ever happens without popular support.
"A pro-active public that's ready to get involved and support programs
is an absolute must," Scheidegger said.
One of the concerns for managing sturgeon is the potential for
illegal harvests. "There's also the possibility of a black market,
as I said, with the decline of European stocks abroad," Scheidegger
All the attention is for a fish species that has existed for 100
million years, may live individually up to 150 years old and is highly
prized by the people of Wisconsin, he said.
Anti-treaty groups are now operating in Menominee ceded territory.
In the spring of 1995, Stop Treaty Abuse (STA) leader Dean Crist spoke
to the Twin Cities Rod & Gun Club in Neenah, and Protect Americans
Rights & Resources (PARR) leader Larry Peterson held a public meeting
in Oshkosh. Non-Indian sturgeon spearfishers and walleye sportfishing
groups in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan are raising funds for a court
case against the Menominee treaty suit, which was filed in January
Red Cliff Chippewa Walter Bresette, a Midwest Treaty Network (MTN)
board member, said, "Dean Crist is trying to do on Lake Winnebago
what he did on Northern lakes -- force counties to spend millions
on law enforcement, cause violence and hatred, and all for nothing
in the end. It's the choice of the people in that community whether
to listen to an outsider with that kind of record."
The former president of the UW-Green Bay Intertribal Student Council,
Chad Waukechon, said, "Sportfishing groups should worry less about
the fear spread by Dean Crist, and worry more about the Exxon mine
doing damage to the same Wolf River- Lake Winnebago system." Waukechon
is an enrolled Bad River tribal member who was raised on the Menominee
Federal District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in 1991 that STA
was motivated by racism in its anti-treaty protests against the Chippewa
(Ojibwe), and issued an injunction against physical anti-Indian harassment
by the group. In 1995, Crist lost an appeal in the Chicago Circuit
Court. As part of the ruling, Crist was ordered to pay $270,000, mainly
in court costs and legal fees. MTN board member Debra McNutt observed,
"Just at the moment Crist needs to pay off his huge fine, he suddenly
finds fertile new fundraising grounds in Menominee ceded territory."
Crist has renamed his group the American Rights Fund (ARF).
Bresette pointed out that the Menominee have fought for years against
many environmental threats to the waterway, and contrasted this record
to Crist, who has said on camera that he would accept a donation if
offered by Exxon. "Exxon's mining partner, Rio Algom, caused the disappearance
of sturgeon in Ontario's Serpent River," said Bresette, "Native Americans
and sportfishers should be uniting together to stop the real threats
to our fish." Bresette said that a key reason that the Menominee are
seeking off-reservation rights is that a Wolf River dam prevents the
natural migration of sturgeon to the reservation. He added that the
anti-mining movement does now offer a place for dialogue between Native
nations and sportfishing groups.
Menominee Appeal Hunting, Fishing Suit
by Cary Segall
Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 18, 1996
The Menominee Indians on Tuesday lost their lawsuit seeking the
right to hunt, fish and gather on much of the public land of eastern
and central Wisconsin. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled (yesterday)
that the Indians gave up those rights in treaties signed with the
United States in 1831 and 1848. The Menominee had claimed in a lawsuit
in January 1995 that they had given up their land in the treaties,
but not the right to use it for hunting, fishing and gathering.
Crabb, though, said the treaties were not ambiguous and it was clear
the Indians had given up all their rights to use the land. ''No
matter how bad the deal,'' Crabb wrote, ''it is not within the court's
province to rewrite it.''
Gov. Tommy Thompson and Attorney General James Doyle praised the
decision, which preserved the state's right to regulate the Menominee's
use of nearly 10 million acres of state land. ''I applaud Judge
Crabb's dismissal of this lawsuit, which we believed went beyond
the bounds of fairness and the rights of the people of this state,''
Thompson said in a press release. ''This a very significant victory
for the state of Wisconsin,'' said Doyle. ''We are pleased that
Judge Crabb accepted the language of the treaty to mean what it
Menominee Tribal Chairman John Teller said the Tribal Legislature
will review the opinion and ''will be exploring all legal options.''
The tribe's lawyers didn't return calls to ask if they would appeal
the decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (UPDATE:
Crabb threw out the lawsuit before trial after reconsidering a
decision last February in which she said the Menominee had made
enough factual claims to pursue the case. The tribe had claimed
an 1831 treaty gave them the right to use public land and to fish
in Green Bay. They also said they never had given up their aboriginal
rights to fish in Lakes Michigan and Winnebago and in part of the
The treaty, referring to land east of the Fox River, gave the
Menominee the right ''to hunt and fish on the lands they have now
ceded to the United States until it be surveyed and offered for
sale by the president; they conducting themselves peaceably and
orderly.'' The treaty also said the tribe could use land on the
west side of the Fox River ''for a hunting ground until the president
of the United States shall deem it expedient to extinguish their
The tribe's lawyers argued that the Indians understood that language
to mean the tribe could continue to use public lands as long as
they behaved. The tribe's understanding was important
becaue the U.S. Supreme Court has said that amibiguous treaties
must be resolved as the Indians understood them
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on that rule in 1983
when it ruled the Chippewa had the right to spearfish in northern
Wisconsin lakes. The Chippewa had signed a treaty that gave the
tribe ''the privilege of hunting, fishing and gathering in the territory
ceded during the pleasure of the president of the United States.''
The court said the tribe understood that language to mean their
rights were guaranteed unless they misbehaved by harassing white
But Crabb noted the Chippewa treaty didn't have specific language
like that of the Memoninee's, which cut off the tribe's right to
use the land when it was surveyed, offered for sale or extinguished
by the president. The tribe's lawyers argued that the Indians didn't
understand such conditions, but Crabb noted that the treaty had
been read to them and they had claimed to understand it. And even
if they hadn't, she said, the language was clear. ''The Menominee's
asserted inability to understand the concept 'surveyed and offered
for sale by the president' might be relevant to the Menominee's
understanding of the treaty,'' Crabb wrote, ''but it does not give
the Menominee free license to invent an interpretation of the treaty
that benefits them today.''
Crabb also said the treaty gave the president the right to take
land west of the Fox River even though tribal leaders in 1836 were
surprised by such a result and said they had been assured in 1831
that the tribe would retain the land. ''Even if the United States
misled the Menominee on this point, this court cannot look beyond
the clear treaty language and rewrite a treaty,'' Crabb wrote. ''Even
treaties that are the product of bribery, fraud or duress are valid
and must be enforced.''
And Crabb said the Menominee gave up their remanining rights in
the land and waters of Wisconsin in 1848 when they agreed to trade
their land for money and land in Minnesota. The Menominee didn't
move, though, and in an 1854 treaty traded the Minnesota land for
the Wisconsin land that became their reservation. But Crabb said
the Indians failure to move didn't change the other terms of the
treaty. And she said that by giving up their state land, they also
gave up the right to unregulated use of state waters. ''Given the
purposes of the 1848 treaty,'' Crabb wrote, ''neither the government
nor the Menominee could have contemplated that they would have the
right to return from Minnesota to use Wisconsin waters as they pleased.''
MENOMINEE web site:
The Menominee Forest-Based Sustainable Development Tradition http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/menominee/
(Site may also be reached from the Links Page.)
The Menominee People have long recognized the need for balance between
environment, community and economy both in the short term and for
future generations. Menominee culture and tradition teaches never
to take more resources than are produced within natural cycles so
that all life can be sustained. These traditional beliefs are the
foundation of the management practices and principles of today�s Menominee
Tribal Enterprises (MTE) operations.