Tribes and the Michigan Wolf Hunt

Written by: Bryan Newland

Primary Source: Turtle Talk

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has approved a wolf hunting season here in Michigan, just one day after Governor Snyder signed legislation authorizing the Commission to determine whether to allow such hunting.

In recent years, Anishnaabe tribes (Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa) in MichiganWisconsin, and Minnesota have opposed state-sanctioned wolf-hunting.  Wolves are important in the religious teachings of Anishnaabe people, and it is often said that the Ma’iingun (wolf) and the Anishnaabe are brothers whose fates are linked.

Senator Casperson of Escanaba,  the primary sponsor of the legislation, dismissed tribal religious concerns during the process, stating:

“I don’t know how you negotiate that, because that’s a personal belief they have. But at the end of the day, I do think many people don’t hold that same belief, so what do we do. Do we hold fast to it because the tribes say it’s sensitive to them, when many of my citizens don’t hold that same value?”

Aside from the Senator’s ironic statement, some Michigan tribes have also based their objections on the legal relationship between the tribes, the state, and the United States.  The 1836 Treaty of Washington reserved the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights of what are now five of Michigan’s Ojibwe and Odawa tribes throughout much of the State of Michigan.  In 2007, those five tribes and the State entered into a court-approved agreement to clarify tribal rights on lands ceded under that treaty.

Section 22 of the 2007 Agreement addresses tribal “activities designed to restore, reclaim, or enhance fish, wildlife or other natural resources within the inland portion of the 1836 Ceded Territory through stocking, rearing, habitat improvement, or other methods.”

Section 23 of the 2007 Agreement addresses consultation between the tribes and the State.  In particular, Section 23.4 provides:

“23.4 The State and the Tribes shall notify each other at least annually of proposed regulatory changes (including changes in management units or methodologies for determining the allowable harvest of any species) before they take effect (except where, due to an emergency or other matter beyond the control of the Parties it is not possible to provide advance notice) and seek to resolve any concerns arising from such changes before implementing them. Upon request, the State and the Tribes shall share information regarding the rationale for such changes and their anticipated effects (e.g., changes in species abundance, distribution, or age or sex ratios). Upon request, the State and the Tribes shall provide similar information for any existing regulation, management unit or allowable-harvest methodology. The information provided shall be sufficiently detailed to enable the other Parties to fully understand the regulation, management unit or allowable-harvest methodology at issue and any underlying data associated with it, and to enable them to make constructive suggestions for improvements to such regulation, management unit or harvestable surplus methodology.”

I am citing these provisions to highlight one basis of tribal opposition to the State’s proposed authorized wolf hunt.  I am not privy to information regarding the level of consultation between the tribes and the State, and whether the State has satisfied its obligations under the 2007 Agreement.  That issue may well be decided in the near future.

I can say that merely including tribes in a general public comment process does not fulfill tribal consultation requirements at either the state or the federal level.  That is not the legally appropriate forum in which to address tribal treaty rights.  If that is the extent to what occurred with the wolf hunt, I’m not sure that all of the tribes that were parties to the 2007 Agreement would believe that the State has fulfilled its obligations.

Lastly, the rights reserved in the 1836 Treaty necessarily include the right to protect habitats and ecosystems that would support hunting, fishing, and gathering.

It is well-documented that wolves are considered a “keystone” species in their natural habitat (which includes most of northern Michigan).  This means that their existence and well-being affects the health and well-being of many other species of plants and animals in their ecosystem.

To the extent that Michigan’s state-sanctioned wolf-hunt impacts tribal rights to hunt, fish, and gather other species, then those tribes may have a valid basis for challenging the size and scope of the hunt.

*Any views expressed in this post are solely those of the author, and not representative of any tribes or other organizations. 

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Bryan Newland
Bryan Newland is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe) in northern Michigan. He is a partner in the law firm of Fletcher Law, PLLC where he represents tribal clients on issues including the regulation of gaming facilities, negotiation of tribal-state gaming compacts, the fee-to-trust process, and leasing of Indian lands. Bryan also serves as the Chief Judge of the Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Court and as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Michigan State University College of Law. In 2008, Bryan served as the Michigan Native Vote Coordinator for Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, and was a member of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. From 2009 to 2012, he served as Counselor and then Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs. In that capacity, he helped develop the Obama Administration’s policies on Indian gaming and Indian lands, reforming the Department of the Interior’s policy on reviewing tribal-state gaming compacts. He also led a team that reformed the BIA’s Indian leasing regulations and worked with key officials to help enact the HEARTH Act of 2012.