MICHIGAN
Conflicts over fishing

 

Case could define inland Tribal rights

A simple trespass charge filed last week by the county Prosecutor�s office could have long-term implications on hunting and fishing rights claimed by Native Americans. Should the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians decide to throw its resources into the case, a Band attorney said that legal costs could run �in the millions� of dollars.

The Leelanau County Prosecutor�s Office has filed criminal charges against a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians that could turn into a �test case� over inland hunting and fishing rights which the Tribe asserts were granted in an 1836 treaty.

A news release issued last week by prosecuting attorney Sara W. Brubaker announced that Tribal member Alvin Ance was being charged for �discharging a firearm on the property of another (recreational trespass) and unlawful taking of an antlerless deer without a valid permit.�

An investigating officer from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources determined that Ance did not have a State of Michigan hunting license when he shot the deer. �Rather, he had hunting permits issued by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians,� according to the news release.

The Grand Traverse Band�s Natural Resources Department has been issuing hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping permits to Tribal members since 1996. The Band employs its own team of uniformed conservation officers to enforce Tribal natural resources regulations.

Tribal regulations�as well as state law�prohibit hunting on private property without permission of the owner. The Band had already initiated prosecution in Tribal Court against Ance for violating Tribal regulations, sources said. Prosecution in Tribal Court has been delayed temporarily due to medical leave required by the Tribal prosecutor, the sources explained.

However, the Leelanau County Prosecutor�s Office is proceeding with the case. The county�s charges �are based on allegations that Mr. Ance shot and killed an antlerless deer on private property belonging to a Leelanau County landowner on November 26, 2001, without permission of the landowner,� according to the news release.

Reportedly, the incident occurred on the site of the former Matheson Greens Golf Course. The owners decided two years ago to close the course and allow the property return to its natural state. The property includes several hundred acres of forest and open space in Leelanau Township. Tribal sources said Ance was under the mistaken impression that the property had been placed under a conservation easement that permits public hunting.

In the case of Matheson Greens, the owner retained hunting rights and required permission to hunt. Brubaker was not available for comment this week, and the chief assistant prosecuting attorney, Daniel W. Rose, declined to provide any comment beyond information contained in the news release.

�The issue here is jurisdiction,� explained Tribal attorney Bill Rastetter. �The State of Michigan, through Leelanau County, has no jurisdiction over a Tribal member exercising rights reserved by the Tribe in the Treaty of 1836, especially since the Tribe has enacted a comprehensive set of regulations governing the exercise of inland treaty rights and the member is already being prosecuted under the Tribal regulations for the same incident.�

Rastetter added: �Any effort by (Leelanau) County to prosecute this separately under state law would violate the member�s�and the Tribe�s�civil rights protected by federal law, and this would subject the county to the possibility of having to reimburse the Tribe�s attorney�s fees if once again it becomes necessary to vindicate the Tribe�s federally protected rights in federal court.�

Rastetter said the cost of such a trial �might amount to millions of dollars before the dust settles.� The charges Leelanau County has filed against Ance contain a maximum jail term of 90 days. In addition, if he is convicted, the court could order Ance to pay the cost of prosecution, fines up to $1,500, and revoke his hunting privileges for up to three years.

Rastetter said it�s up to the Tribal Council to decide whether the Tribe will defend Ance. �We have had no discussion yet, as the Tribe was provided no prior notice nor even the courtesy of being informed that state court prosecution was being contemplated,� Rastetter said.

The Grand Traverse Band and four other Michigan Indian tribes have long asserted that they retain the right to fish on inland waters and hunt on land within the 1836 Treaty area without regulation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The area encompasses the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula and about one third of the western and northern Lower Peninsula.

Ratification of the treaty led to Michigan being accepted for statehood in 1837. Another treaty, ratified in 1855, outlines the historic �reservation area� claimed by the Grand Traverse Band which includes the former Matheson Greens property as well as other portions of Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.

 

 

Provision in fishing pact reignites tensions; Michigan anglers upset that bay formerly closed to Indians is now open

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March 24, 2002
http://sunspot.net


MUNISING, Mich. (AP) - "Jacques LeBlanc vividly remembers those scary nights in the early 1980s when gunfire sometimes rang out as he placed fishing nets in the upper Great Lakes.

American Indian commercial fishermen, like LeBlanc, were locked in a bitter dispute with sport anglers who claimed that the tribes' nets were snagging more than their fair share of the catch.

"We'd work at night to try and avoid attention," said LeBlanc, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Tempers calmed when a federal judge approved a settlement in 1985. But they're flaring again in Munising, a Lake Superior shoreline town of 2,500.

And LeBlanc finds himself a target once more.

The latest tensions surfaced in fall 2000, shortly after the Bay Mills tribe and four others signed a 20-year revision of their pact with the state on fishing rights.

No one seems to know how, but provisions that opened Munising Bay to Indian commercial fishing - which had been prohibited there for more than seven decades - wound up in the 75-page document.

The bay extends about five miles north from its namesake town before reaching Superior's open waters. Sport anglers flock there in pursuit of steelhead trout, coho salmon and whitefish.

Jim Ekdahl, a Department of Natural Resources field deputy who represented Michigan in the negotiations with the tribes, insists that the new policy slipped into the document by mistake as attorneys sent drafts back and forth.

"I've been scratching my head, as we all have been," he said.

Tribal representatives say that the opening of Munising Bay was among the concessions they sought and was a key reason they accepted the deal.

The bay usually freezes in winter, permitting ice fishing - a safer alternative to fishing in open lakes that have floating ice slabs and other hazards.

"It's no glitch," LeBlanc said at home on the Bay Mills reservation, about 100 miles east of the bay. "You can't tell me all those people overlooked it."

Many anglers agree, claiming that the state sold them out to get a deal and now is feigning ignorance. Either way, they want it changed, saying Indian crews will overfish the bay. Tribal biologists deny that.

"What kind of a country do we live in where the government admits they messed up but says, 'Oh, well, ho hum, there's nothing we can do,'" said Doug Miron, chairman of the Munising Bay Fish Committee, which is exploring a legal challenge.

Ekdahl has approached the tribes about amending the pact, but he said they've shown little interest. For now, matters are stalled - and sport anglers are growing more frustrated.

Dave Menominee, another fisherman from the Bay Mills tribe, said his crew was the first to take advantage of the bay's new status, spending a week there in late 2000. Local anglers "gave us a little hassle," he said, but no big problems.

In January 2001, though, LeBlanc and several others hauled gill nets onto the frozen bay. They cut holes and placed about 4,700 feet of netting below the ice.

That night, vandals severed 14 surface lines attached to the nets - which could have allowed them to drift indefinitely, snagging and suffocating fish. The Indians managed to retrieve the netting, but the culprits were never caught.

There was "talk around town ... they were going to burn my truck, my snowmobiles, they were going to shoot at me from the hills" overlooking the bay, LeBlanc said. Still, he continued fishing for several weeks with a police escort.

Anglers say the threats went both ways. "They said if we kept cutting their nets they'd bring the whole tribe up here and put their nets all around our fishing shanties," said Troy Passinault of Munising.

At a tense public forum, LeBlanc assured skeptical anglers that he wasn't trying to ruin their prized fishing spot. But he refused to stay out of the bay while officials tried to sort things out.

"I asked them if they'd be willing to quit their jobs until this was settled, and they say they couldn't do that," LeBlanc said. "Well, this is my job."

He hasn't returned to Munising this winter because unusually mild temperatures have prevented ice from forming on the lake. Crews from other tribes apparently have steered clear too.

But LeBlanc and Menominee say they'll be back - when the weather permits and if they decide it's economically worthwhile. Miron said his group is equally determined to stop them, although it condemns vandalism and violence and considers the state more of a foe.

Miron contends that federal regulations allow the agreement between the state and the tribes to be revised to restore Munising Bay's previous status - if the state would try. Ekdahl says the only way to make the change is to reopen negotiations with the tribes, and he acknowledges that there are few bargaining chips.

The gill net, which resembles an oversized tennis net, is a sore point for sport fishermen. They liken it to a vacuum cleaner that sucks up everything within reach, indiscriminately killing fish - including the ones that tribal fishers don't want.

Defenders say the complaint is outdated. By choosing locations, water depths and mesh sizes, today's gill netters can target specific fish types. Modern netting is made of monofilament, which is easier for sport fish such as salmon and walleye to break than yesteryear's nylon was, LeBlanc says.

But the quarrel involves more than fishing methods. It's also a cultural clash, part of a long-running debate over tribal sovereignty and whether 19th-century treaties are relevant in the modern world.

LeBlanc's father, the late Albert "Big Abe" LeBlanc, is a legendary figure around Bay Mills. His challenge of the state's authority to restrict tribal fishing prompted court rulings that upheld Indian treaty rights and led to the 1985 settlement.

"I often think of my dad when I'm on the lake; I guess it's where I connect with him," LeBlanc said. "I'm not trying to pick a fight with anybody. But when I'm out there using gill nets, I'm exercising the rights he fought for."

There might be easier ways to make a living, he acknowledges. "But I'm a fisherman, it's all I want to be. I'd love to pass it on to my boys."

Anglers are equally passionate. At 26, Passinault is a lifelong sport fisherman and has lots of time for it since getting laid off from his factory job.

"This is all I do," he said after a recent outing on Munising Bay. "If they take that away from me, what's left? I know they have rights, but when they come off the reservation, they ought to abide by our rules."

Copyright � 2002, The Baltimore Sun

 

 

 

Settlement wording rekindles battle between tribal, sport fishers

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March 9, 2002
By John Flesher / Associated Press
http://www.detnews.com/2002/metro/0203/10/metro-436312.htm


MUNISING -- Jacques LeBlanc vividly remembers those scary nights in the early 1980s, when gunfire sometimes rang out as he placed fishing nets in the upper Great Lakes.

American Indian commercial fishermen such as LeBlanc were locked in a bitter dispute with sport anglers, who claimed tribal nets were snagging more than their fair share of the catch.

"We'd work at night to try and avoid attention," said LeBlanc, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"You'd be out in your boat and hear the shots. Or people would run at you and veer off at the last minute."

Tempers calmed when a federal judge approved a settlement in 1985. Now they're flaring again in Munising, a Lake Superior shoreline town of 2,500, and LeBlanc is a target once more.

It started in fall 2000, shortly after Bay Mills and four other tribes signed a 20-year revision of the pact with the state.

No one seems to know how, but provisions wound up in the 75-page document that opened Munising Bay to Indian commercial fishing -- which had been prohibited there for more than seven decades.

The bay extends about five miles north from its namesake town before reaching Superior's open waters. Sport anglers flock there in pursuit of steelhead trout, coho salmon and whitefish.

Jim Ekdahl, a Department of Natural Resources field deputy who represented Michigan in the negotiations, insists the new policy slipped into the compact by mistake as attorneys sent drafts back and forth.

"I've been scratching my head, as we all have been," he said.

Tribal representatives say opening Munising Bay was among concessions they sought and a key reason for accepting the deal. The bay usually freezes in winter, permitting ice fishing -- a safer alternative to the open lakes, with their floating ice slabs and other hazards, LeBlanc says.

"It's no glitch," he said at home on the Bay Mills reservation, about 100 miles east of the bay. "You can't tell me all those people overlooked it."

Many anglers agree, claiming the state sold them out to get a deal and now feigns ignorance. Either way, they want it changed, saying Indian will overfish the bay. Tribal biologists deny that.

"What kind of a country do we live in where the government admits they messed up but says, �Oh, well, ho hum, there's nothing we can do?"'

says Doug Miron, chairman of the Munising Bay Fish Committee, which is exploring a legal challenge.

Ekdahl has approached the tribes about amending the pact, but says they've shown little interest. For now, matters are stalled -- and sport anglers are growing more frustrated.

"The DNR's got to do something ... or the fishery as we know it will be depleted," Miron said.

Dave Menominee, another Bay Mills fisherman, says his crew was first to take advantage of the bay's new status, spending a week there in late 2000. Local anglers "gave us a little hassle" but no big problems, he said.

But in January 2001, LeBlanc and several helpers hauled gill nets onto the frozen bay. They cut holes and placed about 4,700 feet of netting below the ice.

That night, vandals severed 14 surface lines attached to the nets -- which could have allowed them to drift indefinitely, snagging and suffocating fish. The Indians managed to retrieve the netting but the culprits were never caught.

LeBlanc says there was "talk around town ... they were going to burn my truck, my snowmobiles, they were going to shoot at me from the hills" overlooking the bay. Still, he continued fishing for several weeks with a police escort.

Anglers say the threats went both ways. "They said if we kept cutting their nets they'd bring the whole tribe up here and put their nets all around our fishing shanties," said Troy Passinault of Munising.

At a tense public forum, LeBlanc assured skeptical anglers he wasn't trying to ruin their prized fishing spot. But he refused to stay out of the bay while officials tried to sort things out.

"I asked them if they'd be willing to quit their jobs until this was settled and they say they couldn't do that," LeBlanc said. "Well, this is my job."

He hasn't returned to Munising this winter, because unusually mild temperatures have prevented ice from forming. Crews from other tribes apparently have steered clear as well. Their absence has prevented more flare-ups, but the peace may be temporary.

LeBlanc and Menominee say they'll be back -- weather permitting, and if they decide it's economically worthwhile. Miron says his group is equally determined to stop them, although it condemns vandalism or violence and considers the state more of a foe than the Indians.

Miron contends federal regulations allow revision of the agreement to restore Munising Bay's previous status, if the state would try. Ekdahl says the only way to make the change is to reopen negotiations with the tribes -- and he acknowledges having few bargaining chips.

The bay isn't a prime commercial fishing area, he says; it has a limited population of whitefish, which tribal operators prefer. And he doubts tribal fishing will deplete the bay's other species that are more popular with anglers.

Bill Belen, a local sportsman, doesn't buy it.

"You let them start gill netting in here and there won't be anything left for us," the 40-year-old said, pulling his boat ashore on a gray, chilly morning.

The gill net, which resembles an oversized tennis net, is a sore point for sport fishermen. They liken it to a vacuum cleaner that sucks up everything within reach, indiscriminately killing fish -- including those tribal fishers don't want.

Defenders say the complaint is outdated. By choosing locations, water depths and mesh sizes, today's gill netters can target specific fish types.

Modern netting is made of monofilament, easier for sport fish such as salmon and walleye to break than yesteryear's nylon was, LeBlanc says.

But the quarrel involves more than fishing methods. It's also a cultural clash, part of a long-running debate over tribal sovereignty and whether 19th Century treaties are relevant in the modern world.

LeBlanc's father, the late Albert "Big Abe" LeBlanc, is a legendary figure around Bay Mills. His challenge of the state's authority to restrict tribal fishing prompted court rulings that upheld Indian treaty rights and led to the 1985 settlement.

"I often think of my dad when I'm on the lake; I guess it's where I connect with him," says Jacques LeBlanc, 38. "I'm not trying to pick a fight with anybody. But when I'm out there using gill nets, I'm exercising the rights he fought for."

There might be easier ways to make a living, he acknowledges. "But I'm a fisherman, it's all I want to be. I'd love to pass it on to my boys."

Anglers are equally passionate. Passinault, 26, is a lifelong sport fisherman and has lots of time for it since getting laid off from his factory job.

"This is all I do," he said after a recent outing on Munising Bay. "If they take that away from me, what's left? I know they have rights, but when they come off the reservation they ought to abide by our rules."

On the Net: Copy of 2000 fishing compact: http://www.1836cora.org


Q&A about Indian commercial fishing on Munising Bay Questions and answers about Indian commercial fishing and the Munising Bay controversy:

Q. Which tribes are parties to the 2000 compact with the state?

A. The Bay Mills Indian Community, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Q. How does the 2000 compact open the bay to tribal fishing?

A. The document divides the Great Lakes waters that it covers into a network of grids and assigns each a number. The grid corresponding with Munising Bay was among those making up the "Lake Superior Inter-Tribal Fishing Zone." A map accompanying the document also shows the bay as open to tribal fishing.

Q. What are gill nets, and why are they so unpopular with anglers?

A. Indians have used the gill net for centuries. Resembling an oversized tennis net, it's held on the lake bottom or at specified depths by lead weights and floating buoys. Fish swim into the mesh and are snagged. If caught by the gills, they suffocate.

Critics say the net takes too many fish and wastes those the tribal fishermen don't want. The tribes say modern techniques and gear enable them to screen out unwanted fish.

Q. Is there an alternative to the gill net?

A. Some tribal operators use the trap net, a sort of tunnel that steers fish into a holding area. It keeps most fish alive until hauled to the surface, so unwanted species can be thrown back.

But it's too expensive for many fishermen, requiring more equipment and larger boats than the gill net.

 


MICHIGAN
Lake group discusses tribal fishing rights

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July 11, 2001
by Michael Carney
Tribune Staff Writer
http://www.cheboygannews.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/2001/July/11-155-news6.txt


GRANT TOWNSHIP - The Black Lake Association held an informative meeting Monday about attempts by five Native American tribes to secure what they believe is their right to fish, hunt, trap and gather along Inland Waterways in Michigan.

Speaking at the meeting was Frank Krist, member of the Michigan Fisheries Resource Conservation Coalition. The Coalition is made up of sportsmen's groups throughout the area to give a voice to hunters and fishers.

According to Krist, five Michigan tribes - the Grand Traverse Band, the Bay Mills Indian Community, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians - are involved in a lawsuit to reaffirm their rights to fish, hunt, trap and gather on inland water and land.

"They are saying," Krist stated, "they have the right to fishing and hunting along public water and land throughout Northern Michigan and the eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula."

A treaty signed in 1836 reserves the tribal right to hunt and fish on land ceded "until the land is required for settlement." The issue is how water can be considered settled. The five tribes do not believe so, said Krist. The Coalition believes otherwise.

"What we (the Coalition) must do," he explained, "is prove that this water is settled and that the treaties took away inland fishing and hunting rights.

"The tribes are saying that the hunting and fishing rights were never taken away, and that unless they are taken away, they still have them." The process of reaffirmation could be divided into two phases, stated Krist.

"Phase one will take place in the courts," he stated. "The court will decide to reaffirm the tribes rights to hunt and fish or not reaffirm their rights. If they do not reaffirm, it is over. If they do reaffirm, then we enter phase two, where we will negotiate to decide what can and can not take place."

 

 

Tribal Gill Nets Damaged in Disputed Waters

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By Associated Press
January 13, 2001
http://www.detnews.com/2001/metro/0101/13/metro-175365.htm



MUNISING, Mich. -- Vandals this week cut more than a half-mile of gill nets that tribal fishermen had dropped through the ice into Munising Bay. The cut lines, which fishermen use to lower the nets and retrieve them from the water, were discovered Wednesday by their owner, Bay Mills Indian Community fisherman Jacques LeBlanc.

"Someone went out and cut all the up and down lines, and that's the only way we can get them (the nets) back up," said LeBlanc, of Brimley. "The ropes were cut and laying right out on the ice."

Floating freely under the ice pack, the nets could have drifted for months, snagging fish. But tribal members were able to hook a section of one of the nets early Wednesday. In all, 14 nets with a combined length of 3,750 feet were slashed.

"It was a miracle we found them," LeBlanc said. "Luckily, there were no currents that night."

The vandalism suggests a conflict between tribal fishermen and sport fishermen on the bay is heating up, The Mining Journal of Marquette reported Friday.

"There is definitely some people that are really, really upset, and I'm afraid somebody is going to do something really extreme," Munising resident Dennis Mahoney said.

Tensions began simmering last fall when Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials discovered a glitch in a new 20-year fishing pact between four tribes and the state and federal governments.

A mistakenly drawn boundary line inadvertently opened Munising Bay to tribal gill netting for the first time in more than 70 years.

Tribal fishermen from the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians have since staged limited gill netting operations in the bay that have been closely watched by local residents and fishermen.

The DNR this week began talks with tribal representatives in hope of resolving the dispute. "It would be advantageous to all of us if we could minimize conflict over in Munising Bay," said Jim Ekdahl, the DNR's field deputy for the Upper Peninsula.

Tribal police and officers from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are investigating the vandalism. Net tampering is a federal offense. LeBlanc said his crew had received several negative comments from ice fishermen, but no threats. "As long as the fish are here, we aren't going anywhere," he said.

He said his nets catch only fish 17 inches or larger -- about 20 percent of the fish that swim through them.

Sport anglers fear the tribal fishermen will decimate fish populations.

The Munising Bay Fisherman's Association has scheduled a public meeting for next Thursday to discuss the situation.

 

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