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Ojibwe group's wild rice gathering could test treaty rights

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An Ojibwe group's plan for a wild rice gathering event next week could lead to a legal test of the tribe's rights under an 1855 treaty with the U.S.

A group called the 1855 Treaty Authority, which includes members of several northern Minnesota bands, has announced a wild rice gathering event on Hole-in-the-day Lake in Nisswa on Aug. 27.

But as the Associated Press reports, the group's leader notified the Dayton administration they plan to harvest the rice without purchasing a license from the state.

If tribal members are given a citation by conservation officers and the rice they harvest is seized, it could become a test case for a court, the Duluth News Tribune reports. Ojibwe leaders argue the tribe maintained its rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the land sold in the 1855 treaty, the newspaper says.

According to the News Tribune, that area extends from about 40 miles west of Duluth to the North Dakota state line, and from the Brainerd area north to Canada.

Late Tuesday, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr responded to the 1855 Treaty Authority with a letter advising the group that they do risk prosecution if they harvest rice without a license, the AP reports.

According to the news service, Landwehr says it's the state's position that the tribe has no special rights to hunt, fish, or gather in the off-reservation lands ceded in 1855.

An attorney for the 1855 Treaty Authority, Frank Bibeau, tells the News Tribune: "We're looking for a case to bring this to the (federal) court where we will undoubtedly prevail the same way we did with the 1837 case for Mille Lacs and the 1854 case for the Lake Superior region."

Bibeau tells the paper that while the 1855 treaty does not mention hunting, fishing, and gathering rights of the Ojibwe (also known as Chippewa) people, its silence on the issue means those rights are preserved.

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