NISSWA, Minn. (WCCO) — With a steady cadence of drumming setting the tone, Chippewa tribal members set off in canoes into a rich sea of wild rice.

They’d gathered on the shores of Hole In The Day Lake, north of Brainerd, in an intended show of civil disobedience. What they wanted to show was the free harvest of native rice without a state required license.

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“For over 20 years I’ve been fighting for this, not just for us but for our own people to hunt and gather and fish,” White Earth Tribal Member Leonard Thompson said.

Minnesota’s Chippewa tribes covered by the 1855 treaty with the U.S.  say their right to hunt, fish and gather rice off their individual reservations still exists. They believe those rights were held onto in exchange for ceding vast acres of land to the expanding nation.

However, the State of Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources has a far different interpretation of the 1855 treaty and says unlike other Indian treaties, this one is different. Without special off-reservation gathering rights, tribal members must be held to the same natural resource laws and regulations as any other citizen.

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“The DNR position is that off-reservation rights do not exist in the 1855 and absent the permit in effect today, we will take the normal enforcement action we would on all people,” Col. Ken Soring, head of DNR Enforcement, said.

A possible confrontation over the treaty rights test was disarmed on Thursday when the DNR granted the band members a one day “ceremonial permit.” However, just hours later, the state’s goodwill gesture was torn up and discarded. Tribal members say they don’t need the state’s exemption to gather wild rice anywhere within the 1855 ceded territory.

“I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. We knew they might have to take some canoes or ticket people and there are volunteers for that. Everyone wants to be the first one ticketed you know,” Band Attorney Frank Bibeau said.

Tribal members vow to be back, on another lake, on another day. They say they will continue to practice what they see as a cultural right – a right the state maintains is simply wrong.

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“Give us permission for one day to come out? I’m not going to settle for that,” Thompson said.