By Joe Albert Staff Writer
St. Paul — Jerry Mueller isn’t excited about it, but he’s going
back to the place where his boat and fishing equipment were
confiscated at the end of May.
Mueller, of Princeton, and his son-in-law were fishing on Red
Lake, and say they accidentally drifted into waters controlled by
the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Their date in tribal court
is Aug. 31.
Mueller plans to go to tribal court so the matter of whether the
lake rightfully should be controlled by the state or the tribe may,
at some point, be heard at the federal level.
“As it stands right now, we are understanding that in order to
get into federal court, we have to go up there to tribal court,”
Mueller said. “Our intention is that we are going to have to
In the meantime, the fight is on to get the state to help
Mueller get his equipment back.
In a letter given to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and delivered to
Attorney General Mike Hatch and DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam, the
group Proper Economic Resource Management asked officials to help
Mueller secure his property, then take steps to begin managing the
PERM representatives, along with Mueller, state lawmakers, and
the cousin of a man who had his plane confiscated when he landed on
tribal waters a few years ago met last week with Laura Bordelon
from Pawlenty’s office to discuss the situation, which gained
traction following an April 18 letter from a Bagley man that asked
Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain to provide evidence that
the tribe, and not the state, is the rightful owner of the majority
of the lake.
“This certainly isn’t an anti-tribe thing,” said state Sen.
Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton. “The tribes are doing what they believe
federal law says they can do. That’s why clarification is
Congress created the situation, she said, and needs to remedy
it. Until then, the governor’s office needs to tell state agencies
how to handle the situation, Wergin said.
PERM cites a Supreme Court ruling from 1926 that rules the state
has full ownership of the lake, though legal opinions in 1931 and
1936 appear to give the tribe exclusive rights to its part of the
“We actually need something that’s official, other than an
opinion,” Wergin said. “We need some real resolution.”
In a letter to Dave Iverson in the state Attorney General’s
Office, Bob Meier, DNR director of legislative affairs, asked
whether the issue has been analyzed since 1936, but doesn’t ask for
a new legal analysis.
“We are trying to determine if the Department of Natural
Resources has received any advice from the Attorney General’s
Office since 1936 pertaining to these jurisdictional questions,”
Meier wrote. “Would it be possible for your staff to determine
whether any opinions or memoranda exist from 1936 to present
wherein these issues were analyzed?
“This is not a request for new legal analysis, rather, we are
simply trying to determine whether earlier DNR administrations
received legal advice of which we are not aware,” the letter
Absent documentation that the 1926 case ever was overturned,
PERM believes all navigable waters of Red Lake were retained by the
state in 1926, said Doug Meyenburg Jr., chairman of PERM.
Meyenburg said that so far there hasn’t been much in the way of
feedback to requests for such information.
“None of the state or federal or tribal officials have come
forth with any documentation that the (1926) decision was ever
overturned,” he said. “PERM feels that it’s got to come to a
resolution where either there’s documentation, or you begin the
process (of the state managing the lake).
“We aren’t going to let them sweep it under the carpet,”
Candidate weighs in
Michael Barrett, the Seventh District Republican candidate for
U.S. Congress, said in a press release that he supports the federal
government to enforce the 1926 court decision.
“If the Red Lake Band fails to cooperate with the conversion to
the rightful public use of Red Lake, one of my first acts as a U.S.
Congressman will be to see to it that Congress directs the federal
government to enforce these U.S. Supreme Court decisions and return
the waters to their rightful owners… all the people of the great
state of Minnesota,” the press release said.
Calls and emails to the office of Barrett’s opponent, Rep.
Collin Peterson, D-Minn., weren’t returned.