State confiscates fish from Dakota band member at Cedar Lake in Minnepolis
Readers of my column this week saw an outline of Chris Mato
Nunpa’s intentions to net Cedar Lake in Minneapolis today. So I
headed into the city this morning to see if Mato Nunpa, a Dakota
band member and retired professor from Southwest State University,
followed through. He did, along with five other band members, at
the Cedar Lake beach on the lake’s northwest side.
Lots of Twin Cities media attended, as well as a couple dozen
other Dakota and tribal representatives, some of whom chanted and
pounded drums in the background. There were also 20-plus of what
Nunpa calls “upstanders” - nonband folks, mostly white people – who
turned out to support their actions.
About 10 minutes after they started pulling the net, four
DNR conservation officers showed up to confiscate the fish and take
names of the folks participating in the actual netting.
The COs watched calmly as Nunpa and his fellow netters pulled
some healthy gamefish from the water. After the netting ended, they
asked the participants to line up so they could write down their
names. Nunpa and the others held up some home-made fishing
“licenses” that cited Article Three of an 1805 deal the Dakota
forged with Zebulon Pike at what’s now Ft. Snelling. They stood in
front of a sign that said “Exerting our rights, treaty and
As for the fish, I counted two muskies, three northern pike, two
walleyes, a bass, a bullhead, and a mess of panfish. One of the
muskies, a hybrid tiger, was a big fish, maybe pushing 10
Some bystanders demanded that the DNR employees return the fish.
“Don’t take their food!” one gal cried repeatedly. (Back at the
beach, there were multiple packages of donuts and other pastries,
so I don’t think anyone went hungry.) Some other folks suggested
the DNR return the fish to the water. The COs said they would
freeze the fish and keep them as evidence. The matter is now in the
hands of the Hennepin County attorney, who told the Star Tribune on
Friday that he would review the case.
The professionalism of the four conservation officers involved
cannot be overstated. They confiscated the fish, then returned the
container after loading the fish into their vehicle. They walked
into a volatile situation, endured some verbal taunts and
questioning (mostly from the so-called “upstanders”) and kept a
congenial peace while enforcing the law. DNR brass and all
Minnesota citizens should be very proud of how they represented the
DNR Conservation Officer Greg Salo told Doug Smith of the Star
Tribune: “They’ve been respectful to us, and we’re trying to do the
Given some of the harsh words levied their way by some
bystanders, Salo is being somewhat generous with the word
“respectful.” The American Indian Movement’s Clyde Bellecourt
turned out and urged attendees to form a line and “protect your
fish” when the COs initially showed up. The COs just stood back and
That aside, most folks, including Mato Nunpa and his fellow
netters, were fairly low-key and respectful. Mato Nunpa shook hands
with the COs before they left and said, “You’re doing your
For folks who don’t follow treaty rights issues, let’s be clear.
If Nunpa and his fellow netters had purchased a $17 fishing
hook-and-line license and fished tomorrow, Saturday, May 14, like
everyone else, they probably could have kept most fish they caught
on Cedar Lake. But they want to be charged and have a treaty trial
in the “white man’s court” over whether they legally have a right
to those fish outside state management. Nunpa said they intend to
go hunting in Ft. Snelling State Park this fall, too.
We’ll keep you posted in Outdoor News as to how the legal
process now unfolds.