Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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FdL Band objects to vote by L-SOHC

St. Paul — The request was the first for the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council: an Indian band that wanted to use Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars to acquire land within the boundaries of its reservation.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sought about $2.5 million to acquire and protect 720 acres within the St. Louis River watershed.

The band identified as its priority a 440-acre parcel that includes an 80-acre lake, which a real estate broker currently is marketing. The L-SOHC at its Sept. 21 meeting voted 7-5 against recommending $1.7 million for the project.

But in addressing the denial, the band questions whether the council followed its own criteria in evaluating projects to be funded.

In a letter to the council dated Sept. 28 – and distributed to council members Oct. 3 – Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver  maintains there were two major issues the council raised with regards to the project, and that neither had anything to do with the 10 criteria the council uses to evaluate projects.

One issue, she wrote, relates to deed restrictions and reporting requirements. The other “related to the system of combined hunting and fishing regulations for tribal and non-tribal members that would apply to the project area,” Diver wrote.

Under an 1854 treaty that includes a wide portion of the state’s Arrowhead region, band members fish and hunt under regulations set forth by tribal government, not the DNR.

Tom Howes, the band’s natural resources manager, said talk of hunting and fishing regulations “seems to confuse the issue.” The primary parcel, he said, is – for the most part – inaccessible right now. If the band acquired it, it would be open to tribal members and non-members alike, he said.

“The goal of this project was conservation, water quality, and habitat protection…,” Howes said.

Wrote Diver: “We are accordingly dismayed that the LSOHC would disqualify the Fond du Lac Band from participating in the Outdoor Heritage Fund because the Band has reserved treaty rights under federal law, and believes that your treatment of our application in this regard is punitive and discriminatory. The LSOHC has funded many projects within the Treaty area and all of these projects are subject to a combination of state and tribal hunting and fishing regulations. By voting against the Band’s project because this project would be subject to the combined system of state and tribal regulations, the LSOHC broke with the precedent it established in previous projects. Voting on this basis was arbitrary, capricious, and outside the scope of the LSOHC’s authority.”

Council members who voted in favor of the project were: Jane Kingston; Ryan Bronson; board chair David Hartwell; Jim Cox; and Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids). Voting no were: Wayne Enger; Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria); Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul); Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings); Scott Rall; Ron Schara; and Les Bensch.

In an email to council members, Hartwell said he was attempting to meet with Diver to discuss their position.

“Their position poses a serious problem which needs to be addressed,” he wrote. “Some of you may have strong feelings on this subject; nevertheless, I ask that you comment neither publicly nor privately on this matter. Remember, we are under the Open Meeting Law and this is official business before the Council.”

The council is set to take up Diver’s letter at its November meeting.

In her letter, Diver asked the council at that meeting to recommend up to the full amount the band requested, if November revenue forecasts indicate there will be more than $92 million available from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

“Adopting this resolution would be a constructive step forward and help all parties focus on the important task of advancing conservation throughout Minnesota,” Diver wrote.

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