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Burying the Past
By Leif Enger
March 25, 1999
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Mille Lacs Ojibwe leaders yesterday called for cooperation and friendship after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of treaty rights. The decision affirmed an 1837 agreement allowing eight tribes to fish and hunt without state regulation in east-central Minnesota. The court case made for fractious relations between Indians and non-Indians around Lake Mille Lacs. Yesterday, both called for healing.

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See the stories and backgroundon the case compiled by the MPR Newsroom.

SINCE THE OJIBWE SUED FOR TREATY RIGHTS in 1990, Chief Executive Marge Anderson has sounded at times defensive, at times frustrated. But stepping to the microphones Wednesday under a cold March sun, her manner was gracious and relieved.
Anderson: Today, the United States has kept a promise; a promise that our rights are not just words on paper, a promise that agreements are made to be honored, not broken.
Anderson addressed about 200 band members, including a few dozen elders hunched in overcoats against the wind. She thanked the elders for supporting her during the long court battle. She thanked Ojibwe ancestors, who she said also struggled against great odds. Then, closing her short statement, Anderson offered a traditional Ojibwe prayer as an olive branch to those who spent the 1990s opposing treaty rights.
Anderson: Great Spirit, teach us love, compassion, and honor; that we may heal the earth, and heal each other.
The Supreme Court's ruling means the eight signatory bands to the 1837 Treaty will spearfish and gillnet this spring as planned. 55,000 of walleye will be divided among the tribes. The decision affirms the joint management of the lake by the Band and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Business owner Paul Meleen, whose restaurant and gas station cater to sportfishers, says the ruling means the Ojibwe will have to live up to their promises of maintaining a healthy lake.
Meleen: And I will tell you this from this community: they will have lots of people watching closely. And if they do mess up, they're going to get caught. They have now put themselves in a position where they will be held accountable.
Other treaty opponents sounded more conciliatory; in fact, they sounded like former treaty opponents. Judy Caine, representing the Mille Lacs Tourism Council, spoke at the Band's press conference.
Caine: It is now over. We're going to move on, and the healing that's talked about is that we all will adjust to whatever our personal feelings might have been, and work together as a community. And the Band has proven to us in the past, that they're willing to do that, and so are we and the rest of the resorters that I represent around the entire lake.
Caine noted the absence of violent protests last year when the tribes went fishing, and predicted there will be none again this year. Another resorter insisted treaty rights are no longer a problem, but simply the law. And a tribal spokesman called Wednesday's event the death and burial of the issue, and said Mille Lacs leadership has spoken its last word on the matter.