Brett’s blog — Here we go again

I’ve been writing a lot of blog posts and columns lately — and choosing not to publish them.

It’s not that I’m afraid of getting beat up or falsely accused (been there, every day) but that I’m not sure what the best way to do it is at this point.

It’s pretty clear to me from the things I read in my email, the people I talk to on the phone, the articles I read, and the comments made in public meetings that there is little understanding of the facts surrounding the various controversies that plague the area.

And since few people seem to read the paper carefully — especially those who most need a balanced, objective perspective — it sometimes seems like a Sisyphean task (he’s the fellow who has to push a boulder up a hill for eternity).

Here are a few thoughts. If you want more, call me, stop for a visit, comment below, or send an email or letter to the editor to

Controversy 1: Ojibwe gillnetting

Dennis Anderson in the Star Tribune and now Ron Schara in Outdoor News have written recent columns saying what a lot of locals want to hear — that the main conservation concern when it comes to explaining the apparent decline in walleyes is the spawning season gillnetting by Ojibwe bands.

These are credible writers with a history of balance and basis in facts, but on this issue their thinking has become cloudy. I generally trust scientists over journalists on scientific matters, and the DNR biologists have said all along that it’s more complicated than that.

It’s one thing to oppose netting on ethical or legal grounds (and legitimate arguments can be made), but to oppose it on scientific or conservation grounds requires a great deal of data that simply isn’t there at this time.

In addition, the state and DNR have little power to halt the primary harvest method of the Ojibwe bands.

Those who want a primer on the issues involved can read my ongoing series on Mille Lacs walleye management here, here, here, here and here.

I have three more articles planned on estimating the population, estimating the harvest, and setting and enforcing regulations.

Controversy 2: Reservation boundaries

I was around throughout the time period when the county took this issue to federal court, and I’ve done a lot of research and writing on the topic. Former editor Joel Patenaude also covered the issue extensively when he was here from 2001 to 2004, and his stories are mostly available on the website (do an “advanced search” and delete the field that tells it only to look back a year).

The main thing folks need to know right now is that there’s a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering taking place. There’s also a lot of one-sided explanation of the issue that make it appear simpler than it actually is. (Surprise, surprise.)

In the last week, I’ve heard that Garrison, Princeton and Knife Lake are in the 61,000-acre 1855 Reservation. THEY’RE NOT! That’s only one example of the lack of basic understanding out there.

The fact is that there are legitimate legal arguments on both sides: that the 1855 reservation still exists, and that the 1855 reservation was disestablished. Anyone who says it’s a black-and-white slam-dunk should be forced to read about the 1837 Treaty case, which was also sold to locals as a black-and-white slam-dunk.

The other fact locals need to realize is that if they are living on a reservation, it will have very little impact on their day-to-day lives. The tribe cannot tax, regulate, or prosecute non-Indians except under rare circumstances and in relatively minor ways.

The current application under the Tribal Law and Order Act would expand federal jurisdiction for Indians only. Non-Indians will still be under the criminal jurisdiction of the state (and the same federal jurisdiction that applies to all other non-Indians around the country).

People should know that many thousands of Americans live and do business within the boundaries of reservations and their lives are identical to those of neighbors living outside the boundaries.

Yes, there are stories of tribes overstepping their authority, but they are a few interesting (and troubling) exceptions to the general rule. And most of them get resolved in favor of the non-Indian.

I gave an inservice workshop last week here at the Messenger on history, treaties, court cases, and current controversies. It was well received, and although I’m not an expert, I know more than most folks in the area.

Criticize your favorite editor all you like, but know this: I can talk about both sides of these issues. Most “authorities” in the area will only give you one.

If anyone wants me to come in for a presentation, question and answer, or freewheeling discussion/debate on either or both of these controversies, give me a call. I work for tips.


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