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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

 2:19 PM 

Lac Courte Oreilles chairman hits fishing controversy, mining bill in address to lawmakers

Gordon Thayer, chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, told a joint session of the Legislature today that he hopes for improved communication between the state’s tribes and elected officials in the wake of controversies over spearfishing and mining in the state’s northwoods.

Thayer dubbed the controversy over the proposed increase in the Chippewa’s fish harvest a “political ploy” by the state Department of Natural Resources to “embarrass” the tribes into taking fewer fish.

He added that “inflammatory press clippings” have only served to provoke the state’s sportsmen, and that he had flashbacks to the controversy over treaty rights in the 1980s. He said the tribes would work with the administration to ensure the enjoyment of all who want to fish the state’s lakes.

“The Wisconsin DNR leadership must recognize it’s not the ‘80s,” Thayer told lawmakers.

Thayer also reiterated that all the state’s tribes stand behind the Bad River Band in their opposition to changes in mining regulations passed earlier in the session, asking lawmakers to consult with tribes before major decisions on resources are made.

He said all citizens of the state want to protect the state’s environment and create jobs.

“We cannot cash in our natural resources for corporate profit,” Thayer said.

“We should never let outsiders make our laws for us.”

Thayer also said the state should consider making other changes to bolster the tribes -- mentioning the potential of adding tribal law enforcement officers to the state’s pension plan, and noting that tribal community colleges receive comparatively lower state aid despite a lingering skills gap.

Thayer thanked lawmakers for their understanding of the importance of treaty rights -- and urged officials on all levels to collaborate on the many issues facing the entire state. He said the tribes’ economic development, law enforcement and education efforts are a complement to the state.

And while he commended Gov. Scott Walker and his administration for meeting regularly with tribal officials, he was discouraged at what he saw as a lack of acknowledgement from the governor during his State of the State Address.

“We can’t be dismissed as a subgroup of people in the state of Wisconsin,” Thayer said.

“All of us, Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever -- we’ve got to begin working together. We’ll have our differences, yes. But when we talk, we can work through them.”

UPDATE: DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp quickly responded that the state and tribes have a solid foundation to address issues such as the walleye limits.

She also said while the Chippewa tribes are acting within their treaty rights, the one-walleye daily bag limits on 197 lakes is a “dramatic increase” considering a maximum of 10 lakes have had such a limit over the past 15 years.

“As we have stated publicly, the reduced bag limit has the potential to drive down angler participation throughout the summer, decreasing tourism to the lakes of northern Wisconsin, and impacting local economies,” she said. “These are economies that are already suffering the impacts of reduced winter recreation and summer visits.”


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