By Li Boyd Mille Lacs Band Member
This year marks the 19th anniversary of the Mille Lacs Band's U.S. Supreme Court victory affirming Band member rights to hunt, fish, and gather in the 1837 ceded territories. The Band's Department of Natural Resources hosted the annual Treaty Rights Celebration with information booths, vendors, and activities for youth at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Events Center on March 23. Lunch was provided, along with insights from DNR Commissioner Bradley Harrington and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Board of Commissioners member Michael J. "Mic" Isham Jr.
Commissioner Harrington talked about what the narrowly won court ruling actually meant and how differently things might have gone. "What would have happened if it was 4–5 the other way? We wouldn't have been able to hunt and fish as Anishinaabe, then eventually we probably wouldn't have been able to govern as Anishinaabe."
The rights to hunt, fish, and gather are not about sporting or hobbies to the Anishinaabe. These activities are what sustain Anishinaabe life. Commissioner Harrington told a story relayed to him by Joe Nayquonabe Sr.
A long time ago, the animals used to talk with the Anishinaabe. But the Anishinaabe were becoming pitiful, and the Creator was going to take them off the earth. The animals had become kinfolk, relatives, to the Anishinaabe, and they didn't want the Creator to do that. So they asked the Creator, "What can we do to help the Anishinaabe People?" The Anishinaabe were running out of life, so the animals offered to give their own life to the Anishinaabe. The Creator agreed and told the Anishinaabe, "The animals are going to give their life to you, and you will continue on living. But the animals have one con- dition. Only take what you need. And then they will always give." The Creator then stopped the animals and Anishinaabe from talking to each other anymore, as one would hunt the other. So when a person successfully hunts a deer, it's partially because of skill, but it's mostly because that animal has decided to give the hunter some life. Only take what you need.
Treaty rights impact the source of life for Anishinaabe people. The story explains how this goes beyond physical nourishment. The Anishinaabe must also feed their spirit. Without the rights protected by the treaties, the Anishinaabe could lose everything.
Mic Isham said, "I've been on tribal council for 20-some years. We argue a lot, about our gas station, our casino, or whatever. But to me, the most important things are those treaties. Because without them, we have nothing to argue about. So especially to the young people out here, I want to say, with everything you've got, everything you do in the future, protect those treaties. It's really important that we remember how important those treaties are."
Festivities closed with a series of raffle drawings for prizes ranging from toy archery sets for the youth to a complete netting setup. Commissioner Harrington thanked everyone for their attendance.