News release: Ojibwe spring fishing season begins soon

April 25, 2022


DNR reminds Minnesotans of tribal right to harvest fish

Each spring, Native American tribal members in Minnesota preserve their cultural heritage while providing a vital food source for tribal communities by harvesting fish through netting and spearing. This legally protected, regulated harvest of fish usually begins in mid-April at ice-out.

With the tribal spring harvest season getting underway, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expresses support for tribal members exercising their harvest rights within the 1837 Ceded Territory and within reservation boundaries.  The 1837 treaty reserves to tribal members the right to hunt and fish in the ceded territory, free of state regulation.

The DNR reminds all state residents it is illegal to interfere or attempt to interfere with tribal members who are exercising treaty rights, including the spring harvesting of walleye.

“As we look forward to warmer spring weather and ice-out, we are taking the important step of expressing the DNR’s continued support of tribal fish harvests,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said. “These activities are sustainably managed and profoundly important to Native American communities.” 

 “The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is looking forward to the spring harvest to exercise our treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather,” Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. said “Collectively, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, we look forward to preserving this important cultural, natural and economic resource for future generations.”

The tribal harvest within the 1837 Ceded Territory is regulated by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. Every season, both the state and tribes agree on the amount of fish that can be harvested, based on the long-term health of the resource. Then each tribe declares to the DNR how many of each species of fish they intend to harvest from each lake in each ceded territory. Harvest begins shortly after the ice melts, with fishing permits issued by the tribes to their members. Each fish — whether harvested by spear or net — is counted individually and recorded for data used in fishery management, including lake-by-lake determinations of when the year’s declared harvest is reached and further harvest is closed for the year.

“The Band’s harvest of fish in the ceded territory is a right that was retained and guaranteed by the 1837 Treaty and affirmed by the courts,” Mille Lacs Band Commissioner of Natural Resources Kelly Applegate said. “Our ancestors knew the importance of the rights to hunt, fish and gather resources to preserve our culture into the future.”

On-reservation harvesting

There are also conservation codes of the individual tribal nations for harvest within the reservation boundaries. The regulation of harvesting within the reservation boundaries is an “on-reservation” harvest. Tribal members follow the conservation codes set forth by the governing bodies of their nations.

Interfering with tribal rights

It is illegal to interfere or attempt to interfere with tribal members who are exercising treaty rights, including the spring harvest of walleye. Prohibited conduct against any tribal member includes, but is not limited to: stalking, obstructing access to lakes, recklessly operating watercraft, creating hazardous wakes, threatening violence and committing acts of violence. 

Reporting tribal rights infringement

Anyone who has witnessed or been subject to infringement of tribal rights to hunt, fish and gather that is active and involves harassment or a verbal threat of physical harm is encouraged to report that to local law enforcement immediately by calling 911.

People also may contact their local DNR Conservation Officer by calling 651-296-6157 or 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).