ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has proposed expanding the rights of tribal members to harvest wild rice throughout the state.

One provision in a broader Department of Natural Resources policy bill introduced last week would allow band members who possess valid tribal identification cards to harvest wild rice without a license on state-controlled waters anywhere in Minnesota. A House committee has already backed the bill and it is expected to get its first hearing in the Senate next week, DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier said Wednesday.

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Meier told The Associated Press that the idea arose after some American Indian protesters announced plans last summer to gather wild rice without state-issued licenses on Hole-in-the-Day Lake in Nisswa to assert rights they contend they still hold under an 1855 treaty. The DNR, which disputes their interpretation of the treaty, moved to defuse the conflict by issuing a special one-day permit on Aug. 27 to allow them to harvest without licenses.

“That sparked a series of discussions about the cultural significance of wild rice to the Chippewa tribes, in particular,” Meier said. “We try to look for areas where we can work with the bands cooperatively.”

With some exceptions, the state currently requires everyone to have DNR-issued licenses to harvest wild rice outside reservations. Band members can gather wild rice from waters within reservation boundaries subject to tribal regulations.

Budget recommendations that Dayton released Tuesday say the change would reduce license fee revenues that go toward wild rice management by about $4,000 annually. DNR resident wild rice licenses cost $25 for a season or $15 for a day.

The proposal does not deal with off-reservation fishing rights that activists from some bands say they still hold under treaties from the 1800s. And Meier said it doesn’t affect four pending court cases in Crow Wing County stemming from the second day of last summer’s protests.

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Two Native Americans were charged with misdemeanors for harvesting wild rice without licenses from Hole-in-the-Day Lake on Aug. 28, and two others were charged with gross misdemeanors for setting gill nets for fish in nearby Gull Lake. They pleaded not guilty last month in the hopes of forcing the courts to decide how the treaties should be interpreted.

Their lawyer, Frank Bibeau, welcomed the wild rice provision as “a step in the right direction,” but he called on the state to go further and recognize all the rights they’re trying to assert.

“I don’t think we’re all that far away. It sounds like they’re starting to figure it out,” said Bibeau, who’s executive director of the 1855 Treaty Authority, a group that’s independent of the state’s tribal governments, which organized last summer’s protests.

Meier said there were no objections when the bill, which also includes provisions dealing with invasive species and other issues, passed its first House committee Tuesday.

“We don’t anticipate any opposition to it but you never know,” Meier said. “When it comes to wild rice it’s always interesting.”

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