I was not terribly impressed with what I read about the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group meeting last month.
The meeting and its aftermath brought the same comment we’ve heard for over a decade: It’s not fair!
The Mille Lacs community needs to face this simple fact: The Constitution, Congress, courts and president all agree: Treaties are fair.
In the eyes of the law and the courts, it’s just as fair for Indians and non-Indians to have separate laws as it is for Wahkon and Isle to have separate laws.
We may not like it, but no matter how many pundits call on the president to sign away Ojibwe hunting and fishing rights, it’s not going to happen.
The only thing new and interesting in Rob Passons’ report was Suzy Fisher’s suggestion that the resort and fishing community sit down and talk with the bands.
Suzy, I’m with you, but the Mille Lacs Band tried to sit down and talk back in the ‘90s. The non-Indian citizens of the state chose court over negotiations. And lost.
The Band knows that the only point in negotiating now would be for us to talk them into giving us something, which sounds like what’s been happening since 1492.
I was also not terribly impressed with Marge Anderson’s State of the Band address. As I wrote in my story last week, the crowd was more interested in hearing about punishing drug dealers than the happy talk about self-reliance and volunteerism.
The Mille Lacs Band often refers to sovereignty and self-reliance, but Band members need to face this fact: We are all paying for the high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and crime on the reservation.
Yes, the Band has made billions thanks to tribal gaming, but our state and federal taxes still flow disproportionately to the reservation. The Band may be sovereign and self-reliant in some ways, but in others they are still dependent on the larger community — as we all are.
Likewise, we all benefit from the biggest employer in the county, Grand Casino. Without the revenue the casino brings to the area, the local economy would resemble the half-sunk pickup pictured in the paper last week.
Also disappointing was what Anderson left out of her speech. She mentioned drugs and gangs several times, but she never acknowledged the simple fact that drugs and gangs have taken root in Vineland because the soil was prepared by the Band’s oldest nemesis: alcohol.
It’s the one thing all the tragic deaths in the area over the last couple years have in common, and unless the reservation community acknowledges that, crime-fighting efforts will be in vain.
The two recent meetings represent the quandary at the heart of the Mille Lacs community.
On the one hand, the Mille Lacs Band needs the goodwill of the non-Indian community to fight crime, patronize businesses, and oppose expanded gambling in the Twin Cities.
On the other hand, the non-Indians need the goodwill of the Mille Lacs Band to minimize the tribal harvest’s impact on the fishery and the tourism economy.
But goodwill on both sides is lacking, if not absent.
Too many in the Band government and community are ruled by distrust of their non-Indian neighbors.
Too many in the non-Indian community are governed by resentment of their Indian neighbors.
All we can hope for is that both sides face reality, which may bring us into convergence.
The non-Indian community needs to face reality by accepting the tribal harvest, ignoring it, or (God forbid!) embracing and celebrating it. Walleyes will likely die back anyway due to climate change and zebra mussels, and the community needs to focus on the other positives in the area: muskies, bass, unrealized recreational opportunities, and the richest cultural history in Minnesota.
The Mille Lacs Band needs to face reality by electing a leader in 2012 who will push the community in a new direction of trust and cooperation while telling the truth about the roots of crime and the limits of sovereignty.
In a healthy community, everyone would set aside their differences and work together, or at least put their differences on the table and talk about them.
But sadly, ours is not a healthy community. Not yet.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.