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E-M:/ Agreement Reached in Inland Treaty Rights Case

Sept. 26, 2007

Contact: Mary Dettloff 517-335-3014                                    

Agreement Reached in Inland Treaty Rights Case

The Department of Natural Resources, the United States and five Michigan Indian tribes jointly announced today that they have reached an agreement on tribal inland hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in the 1836 Treaty area of Michigan. 

The agreement resolves a long-standing dispute with respect to federal and tribal claims that the tribes retained rights under the 1836 Treaty of Washington to hunt, fish, and gather in the treaty area under tribal regulations, rather than under state law. 

“This agreement is especially significant in that all of the parties were able to work together to resolve this difficult and complex issue without risking the uncertainties of litigation,” Department of Natural Resources Director Rebecca Humphries said.  “This allowed a more acceptable resolution that protects Michigan's unique resources and addresses tribal needs.  This agreement is a fair compromise and will provide stability and predictability in an area of former legal uncertainty.” 

The five Michigan Indian tribes involved in the agreement are the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

The area affected by the agreement is the portion of Michigan within the 1836 treaty boundary, which includes roughly the eastern half of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a large area in the northern third of the Lower Peninsula.

The agreement recognizes a treaty-retained right for the tribes’ members to engage in certain hunting, fishing, and gathering activities within the treaty area, and for the tribes to regulate those activities.  Tribal members may harvest natural resources under the agreement for their own subsistence use from tribal lands and from lands open to the public.

With limited exceptions for species subject to commercial harvest under state law (such as furbearers), the agreement does not provide for commercial hunting, fishing, or gathering by tribal members.  Similarly, with limited exceptions (such as larger commercial forest land holdings already open to the public), the agreement does not open private land for harvesting activities without permission of landowners.

The agreement does allow for some seasons and traditional Indian methods of subsistence harvest that are not available to non-tribal members, but with adequate safeguards to protect the resources being harvested.  These provisions were designed to enable the tribes to preserve important aspects of their culture and traditions and to meet the needs of their members.

“An essential part of this agreement is that Michigan’s natural resources will not be compromised,” said Jim Ekdahl, DNR’s Upper Peninsula field deputy and lead tribal coordinator.  “The tribes and the DNR will be working together to assure that the combined state and tribal harvest of fish, game, and forest materials will not exceed safe and appropriate harvest levels.”

This agreement resolves the last component of a legal dispute over 1836 treaty rights that began in Michigan in the 1970s.  Negotiations over this last portion have taken place over several years, and have also involved major interest groups around the state.  All of the parties are currently proceeding through their respective approval processes, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe will be conducting a referendum on the agreement.  The agreement must be presented to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan for its approval.

“Once we agreed to sit down and talk, it quickly became apparent that we might really be able to resolve our differences by agreement,” said Jimmie Mitchell, Natural Resources Director for the Little River Band.  “What we accomplished during this negotiation was a reaffirmation of what our respective governments agreed upon back in 1836 when the treaty was signed.  This will allow our people to continue to derive subsistence based on age-old methodology in an _expression_ of our cultural identity.”

A number of resource and property owner groups participated in the negotiations.  Speaking on behalf of the Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources, a coalition of hunting, fishing and lake property owner organizations, Frank Krist from the Hammond Bay Anglers Association said, “Reaching a settlement was difficult and no one got everything they wanted.  On balance, though, we think this agreement presents the best chance for our members to continue to enjoy the sport opportunities Michigan's North Country has to offer.  With a commitment to sound management, and a respect for everyone's rights, we think Michigan's citizens can continue to enjoy fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities for years to come.”

There are provisions in the agreement for the parties to meet regularly to discuss resource management issues and to modify the specifics of the agreement as necessary to provide for appropriate resource protections in the future as circumstances change over time.  The agreement will have immediate effect upon approval by the Court and has no expiration date. 

For more detailed information, including the consent decree in its entirety, go to the DNR’s Web site at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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