In the Spotlight

News & Features
Passions Simmer as Treaty Decision Nears
By Leif Enger
March 3, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0 28.8

The chief executive of the Mille Lacs Ojibwe Band says she's still waiting to hear from Governor Jesse Ventura, after the publication of her open letter criticizing Ventura's leadership. In the letter, Chief Executive Marge Anderson accused the governor of attempting to inflame public opinion against the Band, even as the Supreme Court prepares to hand down a final decision on treaty rights.

Ojibwe Chief Executive Marge Anderson

Photo: Duane's Photography

Mille Lacs Chief Executive Marge Anderson says she's frustrated Governor Ventura doesn't understand tribal sovereignty, and worried his flip approach to treaty rights could set an unfriendly tone as the Supreme Court prepares to rule. Anderson refers specifically to this Ventura comment, made last month in Washington DC.
Ventura: On one hand they want to be a sovereign nation, and on the other hand they don't. My question would be, can you have it both ways? They seem to. But you either are or you aren't. I'm a bread-and-butter kind of guy, and I guess I'd like at it and say, are you part of the United States or aren't you? And if you are your own sovereign nation, then take care of yourself.
Anderson says the comment displays the governor's ignorance about laws upholding Native-American sovereignty; moreover, she's angry about the timing. Anderson has been encouraging band members to be accepting and conciliatory no matter how the court rules on treaty rights. She says Ventura's been no help.
Anderson: We try to calm things down before the decision comes down, and we don't know how it's going down. We wrote letters to Band members, to take the high road, to act with respect. But by the governor making these inflammatory statements I feel strongly that the leaders in this state should do everything they can to calm the situation, rather than inflame it.
Treaty rights have been a focus of contention in Minnesota since the Ojibwe sued the state in 1990, claiming the right to hunt and fish without state regulation. The last time the issue reached a potential-crisis point was two years ago. With Band members set to begin spearfishing, then-Governor Arne Carlson made a prime-time television appeal for understanding, asking treaty-rights opponents to avoid violence and respect the law. Anderson says she heard no respect in this remark from Governor Ventura.
Ventura: Personally, if those rules apply, then I think they ought to be back in birch-bark canoes, instead of with 200 horsepower Yamaha engines with fishfinders.
Anderson: Ignorance again. Nobody I know has a big boat or anything like that. We're not the big sportfishermen, or whatever it is, to have big boats and fishfinders and all that. I don't know why he's accusing us of that, it's just ignorance.
Anderson says she tried months ago to set up a meeting with Ventura, only to be told by an aide the Governor doesn't meet with special-interest groups.
Anderson: I don't know what he means by a special-interest group, whether it's other people of color. But we do have a status, we are a government. The ball is in his court, whether or not he wants to meet, and I'd be wanting to do that.
Governor Ventura hasn't responded publicly to Anderson's complaint.