Michigan, 5 Tribes Reach Proposed Deal On Fishing, Hunting Rights

Wednesday, September 26th 2007, 7:30 am
By: News On 6

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ A proposed agreement with the state would allow five American Indian tribes to regulate hunting, fishing and plant-gathering by their members on millions of acres across Michigan.

Supporters hope the proposal, which was expected to be announced Wednesday, will end decades of bickering over what rights Indians retained when signing away ownership of land that amounts to 37 percent of the state. The 1836 treaty helped lead to Michigan acquiring statehood the next year.

State officials and the leaders of most tribes and sporting groups were lining up behind the plan, saying it doesn't give the tribes all they want but does protect their interests.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the proposed consent decree, which needs approval of each tribe's government and Federal Judge Richard Enslen to take effect. Several have already signed on, while the largest tribe _ the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians _ has submitted the pact to its 29,000 members for a referendum.

Critics likely will complain the proposal grants Indians too many special privileges, such as a four-month deer hunting season during which they can use firearms to kill up to five deer, while non-tribal members pursue deer with mostly firearms for just two weeks in November.

In a statement, the Burt Lake Preservation Association voiced ``disappointment with the negotiation process because there was little public involvement.'' The group said it feared the deal would put the lake's walleye fishery at risk.

``But we must accept the conclusion and work towards a positive resolution with the state and the tribes,'' the association said.

Tribal leaders say they have demonstrated over many generations their responsible stewardship of natural resources.

``We've wanted all along to make sure people wouldn't feel the need to lash out because they were afraid we were going to destroy the resource,'' said Jimmie Mitchell, natural resources director for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians based in Manistee.

The proposal affects much of the western and northern Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula.

The five tribes are the Bay Mills Indian Community; The Sault Tribe; the Little River Band; the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.