Winona LaDuke Open Letter To Governor Dayton
Photo: Winona LaDuke has dedicated her life to protecting the land and way of life of Native communities.
We would like to eat. Our people have been jailed for snaring rabbits, hunting and lost our boats and nets. It is time to evolve our relationship with the state. This last week, your Department of Natural Resources decided to issue some citations to Ojibwe people for ricing on Hole-in-the-Day Lake. That is, after the cameras were gone. The officers went out to track down Morningstar and Harvey Goodsky citing them for harvesting wild rice off the reservation, without state permission. Sort of like “poaching wild rice.” This is out of line. Let me do my best to explain why.
When my ancestors signed the treaty of 1855, Anishinaabe Akiing, our land, was in good shape. We could all drink the water from these lakes; wild rice was throughout our territory; fish, moose and wolves were abundant; and the maple trees were in their glory. That treaty was with the U.S. government, and somehow you are now managing the assets of the 1855 treaty, or most of them. You are failing to care for what we love.
This is what I see. Some 90 percent of the wetlands have been drained. The western third of Minnesota, including the 1855 treaty territory, was once covered with wetlands. Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions annually, the state is still losing more than it restores. Fish: Well, these days a pregnant woman or a child can eat one meal a month of a walleye (under 2 feet), bass, catfish or northern, none of the larger ones. Coal fired generation causes that. The rest of us can eat once a week, before we have to worry about methyl mercury poisoning. Wow.
Now your fisheries department has managed to crash the Mille Lacs fishery. Let me remind you that the Mille Lacs band did not do that, and has volunteered to forgo tribal harvest for next year. This crash resulted from the folly of your politics and the 2006 decision to increase the limit, despite scientific and tribal expertise which set the limit at 350,000 pounds. Minnesota fishery staff secured a legislative approval for 550,000 pounds. Nice work. The walleye population in 2014 was its lowest in 30 years. And, many of your lakes are dying from agricultural runoff and invasive species.
Anishinaabeg people have always lived with the moose and the wolf. You have allowed their destruction by corporate and special interests driven myopic management policies. Let me be clear: In July of 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth filed a request to list the Moose as endangered. In just 10 years time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9,000 to as few as 3,500. Why? Habitat destruction caused by mining and logging industries and over harvesting. Now, scientists agree that the greatest threat which could virtually eliminate moose from Minnesota within five years stems from climate change. Yet the state continues to forward a fossil fuels based energy policy, from dirty oil pipelines, to a “clean energy plan” which uses coal gasification as a centerpiece of stupidity.
Frankly, your forest management policies alone could have almost wiped out the moose. A 2006 study found that six of the 12 known wildlife corridors in the Mesabi Iron Range will likely become isolated, fragmented, or lost completely, and almost 9,000 acres of habitat will likely be destroyed. That’s what new logging and mining projects will do to the moose.
Minnesota’s made a mockery of stewardship and respect by failing to understand the nature of the wolf in the north and the centrality of the wolf to Anishinaabeg people. In 2014, DNR announced an increase in wolf hunting permits: 3,800 hunting and trapping licenses available for the coming season, up from 3,500 last year, allowing up to 250 wolves to be killed before the season closed. This forced federal court action, but also forced the Ojibwe tribes to declare wolf sanctuaries on our reservations and push for the same in our treaty territories.
You have cost us many of our trees. Our chief Wabunoquod spoke of how the great pines had been stolen from our people, and cried at the loss, as they were our ancestors. The maple basswood forest system is in serious decline, and many of our most productive maple sugarbush areas in the 1855 treaty territory have been cut, without regard for us. This leaves families without food and sugar.
Now you come for the wild rice. You have cost us 50 percent of the manoomin in the north. Let us be clear, this is the only grain indigenous to North America and is far more nutritious than GMO crops. Yet dam projects destroy our precious food, and now the state intends to weaken sulfate standards which protect our waters and wild rice so that you can open up mining in the north for Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests.
Then there’s the baffling pipelines – four of them – through our best wild rice territories, all pushing through the entirely dysfunctional system of the Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission which will not even speak formally with tribal governments.
Please explain to me again, why our people should be arrested for harvesting wild rice? The state has shown no regard for the north. We would like to eat and continue the life we were given by the Creator.