State confiscates fish from Dakota band member at Cedar Lake in Minnepolis

Posted on May 13, 2011

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 inherent.'"

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 pounds.

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 state.

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 same."

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 ignored him.

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 job."

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.