Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Bands demand that commissioner resign

Merriam apologizes for comments

By Rob Drieslein

Editor

St. Paul Leaders of eight Indian bands in Minnesota called for
the resignation of DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam this week
following comments he made at a Mille Lacs-area banquet.

In response to a question at an April 27 Proper Economic
Resource Management banquet in Wahkon regarding the fairness of
different Indian and non-Indian rules, the commissioner said, “I
think that any systems of apartheid based on race is inherently
misdirected.”

The bands objected after Merriam’s comments from the banquet
first appeared in the May 2 edition of Outdoor News and later in
the Isle-based Mille Lacs Messenger.

The letter from the bands called Merriam’s comment “offensive,
hostile, and completely unacceptable.” It also criticized Merriam
for attending the fundraiser and for speaking to the issue of a
future presidential order overturning the bands 1837 Treaty
rights.

The bands found the use of the term “apartheid,” which usually
refers to the political and economic discrimination against
non-European groups in South Africa, particularly troubling.

“Comparing the legal exercise of treaty rights with one of
history’s most brutal and racists systems of government is
outrageous and should be condemned by all Minnesotans.

In a statement issued Monday evening, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said
Merriam’s comments were unfortunate and did not reflect the policy
of his Administration. The commissioner also apologized for the
comments, according to the Pawlenty statement.

“Apartheid, or segregation based on race, is an abhorrent
chapter in human history,” Pawlenty said. “I know Gene Merriam to
be an inclusive man of fairness and the utmost integrity. He will
act quickly to ensure that these regrettable comments do not damage
the relationship DNR has with the tribes.”

The letter from the bands was signed by Melanie Benjamin, chief
executive of the Mille Lacs Band; Stanley Crooks, chairman of the
Shakopee Sioux Community; Gary W. Donald, chairman of the Bois
Forte Band; Tom Ross, council member of the Upper Sioux Community;
Audrey bennett, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community;
Norman Deschampe, chairman of the Grand Portage Band; Ann Larson,
president of the Lower Sioux Indian Community; and Peter White,
chairman of the Leech Lake Band.

In their letter, the bands said the DNR commissioner must be “an
impartial referee on issues that arise between Indians, as they
exercise their legal treaty rights, and the sportsmen and women of
our state.”

The letter criticized Merriam for attending a PERM fundraiser “a
group dedicated to harming Indians,” calling it
“inappropriate.”

Mark Rotz, past PERM president, took issue with the bands on
that point. He called the organization, which has been the
fundraising arm of the landowners in the 1837 treaty case, a
“conservation” group.

“We agree with the commissioner’s comment that everyone should
be using and following the same hunting and fishing laws,” Rotz
said. “(But in regards to harming Indians) Obviously that’s
certainly never been our intent or what we’re about.”

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