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Chief Hole in the Day

Photos: Georgianne Nienab er

Minnesota Ojibwe Challenge Treaty Rights

Members of Minnesota's Chippewa tribes and the 1855 Treaty Authority began harvesting wild rice at Hole in the Day Lake near Nisswa, Minnesota, this week. The lake is named after an Ojibwe chief who was among the negotiators to several treaties with the United States at that time.

The 1855 Treaty Authority is independent of tribal governments, but is composed of tribal leaders. In an effort to test gathering rights off reservation land, tribal members were prepared to begin the wild rice harvest without purchasing a state license. The action was designed to test tribal rights under treaties with the federal government.

Leaders hoped that a court test of the scope of the treaties would give them more leverage to challenge a proposed pipeline by the Canadian Enbridge Corporation. Tribes say the Sandpiper pipeline will threaten and possibly damage sacred and ancient wild rice beds if Minnesota authorities accept the proposed pipeline route.

They are correct. It will.

A 1999 federal court decision that considered the 1837 treaty between the Chippewa and the federal government concluded the Chippewa did not give up their 1837 rights under the 1855 treaty.

In a surprise move, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did not issue citations or confiscate equipment. Instead the DNR issued a one-day license for the harvest at Hole-In-The-Day.

Chief Hole in the Day

Col. Ken Soring, chief enforcement officer for the DNR, said the one-day permit was issued without request to honor the importance of wild rice in Chippewa culture, to bring attention to clean-water issues and to pay homage to the late Ojibwe Chief Hole in the Day, for whom the lake is named, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Native activists have vowed to return without the unasked-for-permit and continue gathering rice on Hole in the Day Lake until they are arrested, equipment is confiscated, or citations are issued. They want to bring the issue to court for a definitive ruling on treaty rights.

I am not sure this is wise. It may be a clever legal move, but it has the possibility of backfiring on the tribes, who have gained much goodwill and support from other residents of this area because of their steadfast fight against Enbridge's proposed super oil pipeline through the pristine northern lakes area. Enbridge's project has the potential to carry more oil than the Keystone XL.

More protests would also be a slap in the face to the DNR, which has tried mightily to avoid confrontation. Mistakes and some hubris aside, the DNR has done a much to protect Minnesota's environment. No organization and no person are perfect.

Wild rice is a sacred food for our native neighbors. It is ancient, it is pure, and it is a gift from the Creator.

I was at the first event and mostly observed and took some video for a friend. The ceremony of giving thanks for the harvest was moving. I had no intention of writing about it and was happy to see a possible confrontation defused by DNR officials.

Chief Hole in the Day
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It was also nerve-wracking to be positioned along a four-lane highway and watching young children darting across with little supervision. It is a miracle that no one was injured.

I have been covering the pipeline issues here in Minnesota and in North Dakota for at least three years now. This potential action confuses and saddens me. Forced confrontation always does. As a member of the white community and also someone who has worked very hard and with conviction to support treaty rights, I am concerned that much accumulated goodwill could be erased.

There is a deep moral connection between treaty rights and what Enbridge oil is trying to force on sacred Indian lands. North country residents share a desire to protect our unsullied waterways. Residents, both on and off the reservations, were all working together to stop Enbridge.

What is the wise thing to do? "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." Socrates, a white Greek guy, said that.

"The Great Spirit is in all things: he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us." Big Thunder, a Wabanaki Algonquin, said that.

Chief Hole in the Day

I think we all agree.

For me, a confused north country resident, knowing nothing means doing nothing.

I intend to sit this one out, but hope that whatever happens, happens in the best interests of Mother earth.

I wish I could interview Chief Hole in the Day. At the beginning of one of the last Indian wars in Minnesota, his influence was instrumental in stopping the Ojibwe from joining the Sioux in their attacks on European settlers.

Would the late Chief use his considerable talents of diplomacy to bring all sides to the table on this important issue?

Former Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke and Dennis Banks were in attendance at the first protest. Banks is Anishinaabe (Ojibwa), born on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. In 1968 he co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Whatever anyone takes away from this personal observation, know that I fully support my Native neighbors in their fight against Enbridge.

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I'm just not sure that civil disobedience is the right way to go in this instance.

Georgianne Nienaber
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