This West Is OUR West

Do we just wait, or do we get involved?

By Clare Fitz

     We wait for things to get better.  We wait for that elusive “fix.”  And while we wait, our local economy is being destroyed.  Mille Lacs Lake, in north central Minnesota, was once known as the Walleye Capital of the World and the local economy was built around the tourism associated with the Walleye fishing industry.  Now the fishing launches sit idle at the docks or are still on shore.  Few want to go fishing for Walleye when all the Walleye must, by Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulation, be returned to the lake – no fish fry for the family, unless you are Indian.  Yes, there are some sportsmen that just enjoy the sport of catching fish, but not enough to support the economy.  Yes, and now even catch and release of Walleye is (temporarily ???) forbidden by the DNR.  And no live bait for any type of fishing.  And what will tomorrow bring?

     Now the cabins sit empty, even on the traditional fishing season opener or on holiday weekends.  Now the local restaurants have few customers.  Some have elected to be open only on weekends or operate with reduced staff.  Some have just given up and padlocked the doors.  Now the local bait shops are finding their sales drastically reduced.  Remember, no live bait on Mille Lacs.  Now “For Sale” signs are going up on residential properties, only to find that property values are down.  Now businesses are closing or just barely hanging on, many with subsidized loans from the State of Minnesota. Now our youth are disappearing in search of greener pastures – no jobs with a future here.  And these are just the most visible effects of the destruction of the Mille Lacs fishery.

     It is easy to blame the Indians, and in frustration that is an easy out.  But the truth is that our government, both federal and state, in an effort to correct or cover up earlier misdeeds, in many cases earlier corruption, has created a system of government, based in large part on race, and therefore in large part unconstitutional, that has evolved over many years and often in happenstance fashion, that does not, and has no intention of working together toward equal opportunity for all.  (Read “and the Mille Lacs who have no Reservation” by the author of this article to understand how this happened at Mille Lacs.  Available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble)

      And as if that weren’t enough, while the economy of the area is being destroyed, our federal government, through the Department of Interior (DOI), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Commerce Department (Census Bureau), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice, continue the assault on the northern part of Mille Lacs County where it borders on Mille Lacs Lake, causing both a loss of tax base and a loss of local jurisdiction.

     And so, do we stay the current course until the Mille Lacs fishery is completely destroyed and with it the local economy?  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources claims that their hands are tied in managing the Mille Lacs Lake fishery by previous court cases.  Or do we promote other activities as a way of restoring the local economy – bird-watching, wind-surfing, sail-boating, and such.  While we watch the family-filled cars pass by Mille Lacs Lake on their way to other lakes where they have a chance of catching enough fish for a family fish fry.

     And do we patiently stand by as our federal government assumes more and more control over our lives under the pretense that the long ago disestablished Indian reservation still exists?

     Is it time for we citizens to get involved and do our part?

Or do we just wait?