Dakota Indian activists plan fishing-rights protest

A group of Dakota Indian activists plans to cast a gill net in a Twin Cities lake on May 13, a day before the fishing opener.

That would be a violation of state law. And this time, Chris Mato Nunpa hopes police will notice.

“It’ll be on Friday the 13th,” Mato Nunpa notes.

I wrote about their plans last July, when Mato Nunpa’s group, Seven Fires Summit, was beginning to plot their strategy. Staged efforts in the past to draw attention to the Treaty of 1805 didn’t go far.

2008 gill net.jpg

In 2008, Mato Nunpa and his friends, including activist Jim Anderson, above, set a gill net in the waters of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. That demonstration was captured on YouTube.

“Our intention was to get arrested, get ticketed, and then to appear in court, and use the Treaty of 1805 as our legal defense,” Mato Nunpa recounted to me last summer. “But nobody came.”

This time around, the group is taking cues from the northern Ojibwe band members who announced their intentions to hold a fish-in in Bemidji ahead of time. The media came out in full force to cover the event.

It’s unclear, however, whether a treaty-rights exercise involving an urban Twin Cities lake will garner as much attention. And there are far fewer Dakota Indians in the state than there are Ojibwe, says Mato Nunpa, who went to Lake Bemidji last year to observe the fish-in there.

“I envied them because they had so many people to support their efforts,” Mato Nunpa says.

He and the other activists are scoping out area lakes and will announce the location in about two weeks.

A Department of Natural Resources spokesman told me last year that officials wouldn’t turn a blind eye to an apparent violation of state law. While the Treaty of 1805 obligates the U.S. government to allow the Dakota to hunt and make use of the land “as they have formerly done,” some historians say the treaty is no longer valid.

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