Federal judge OKs deal on hunting, fishing rights in Michigan

By John Flesher
Traverse City, Michigan (AP) 11-07

Five tribes in northern Michigan will try to develop similar hunting and fishing regulations following a federal judge’s approval of a deal acknowledging their rights under an 1836 treaty.

U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen of Kalamazoo signed a consent decree between the state of Michigan and the tribes Nov 5th. It was the final step in a 4-year-old lawsuit rooted in decades of debate over the meaning of tribal rights in modern times.

The document says tribal members can hunt, fish and gather plants for subsistence and medicinal purposes on public lands and waters covered by the treaty. They will need owners’ permission to use private property.

The deal affects roughly 37 percent of the state, extending from southwestern Michigan to the northern Lower Peninsula and eastern Upper Peninsula. It establishes a framework for the tribes to regulate members’ activities and cooperate with the state to protect resources from overuse.

“We’ve really got to start earning our keep now,” said Jimmie Mitchell, natural resources director for the Little River Band of Ottawa, referring to the need for tribal, federal and state authorities work together on a management plan.

Other tribes involved in the agreement are the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa and the Bay Mills Indian Community. Altogether, they have about 45,000 members.

The Little River, Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bay tribes have been operating under the same rules, Mitchell said. The Sault tribe has mostly tracked state rules, while the Bay Mills tribe has its own rules for hunting and is developing a fishing package.

All five tribes will have to make changes in their policies to conform with the deal, with the goal being a uniform code for all, Mitchell said.

“If one tribe has a vastly different approach than another, it will be confusing,” he said. “We want to avoid a situation where people are being detained or cited unnecessarily.”

The tribes hope to have their rules in place within a couple of months, said Bill Rastetter, attorney for the Grand Traverse Band.

Among matters for discussion is making sure the tribes recognize the authority of each other’s conservation officers – and those with the state – to cite violators, Rastetter said.

Many, but not all, tribal policies will be similar to the state’s. The agreement allows them to have longer deer hunting seasons, and to spear walleye and use nets where non-Indians cannot.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources was hosting a public meeting on the pact in Saginaw on Monday night, the last in a series around the state. Despite some complaints, most people at the meetings seem to have accepted the agreement, said Jim Ekdahl, the DNR’s coordinator of tribal issues.

“Our hope is we’ll get this up and running as smoothly as possible and have a good working relationship with the tribes,” he said.

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