A Discussion of Cooperative Management Arrangements within the Ojibwa Ceded Territories
William P. Mattes and Neil Kmiecik
In the Ojibwa1 ceded territories, cooperative management arrangements are normally founded in court decisions reaffirming treaty-reserved rights, with each arrangement differing in various ways. In all cases, the Ojibwa, as governments and as nations, view that harvest rights carry with them the responsibility to protect and manage resources.
From 1836 to 1854, four land cession treaties were signed between the United States Government and the Ojibwa tribes living in a vast area around Lake Superior that later became the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In return for their land, the Ojibwa reserved the right to hunt, fish, and gather throughout the ceded territory, including Lake Superior. As long as resources were plentiful, this reservation of rights seems to have been of little concern. But as fish and wildlife populations began to decline due to increasing exploitation and habitat destruction, the states began to develop regulatory programs and to enforce their laws against the Ojibwa. Nevertheless, survival and tradition led tribal members to continue to hunt, gather, and fish either on reservation lands or off the reservation where they were subject to arrest by state wardens. And so only a few decades after the last treaty was signed, the Ojibwa began to be denied their treaty-reserved rights.
Starting in the 1970s and continuing through today, tribal members and tribal governments began challenging the authority of the states to apply their resource regulations against tribal members hunting on ceded lands and fishing in ceded waters, both inland and Lake Superior. In a series of federal and state court decisions, the treaty-reserved rights of the Ojibwa were reaffirmed (e.g., in Michigan, the 1971 Jondreau Decision; in Wisconsin, the 1972 Gurnoe and the 1983 Voigt decisions; and recently during the 1990s in Minnesota, the Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac decisions). In some instances, after the existence of the rights was reaffirmed, further litigation followed to establish the scope of state regulation, the adequacy of tribal regulations, and how the resources should be allocated. In other cases, further litigation did not follow and the parties chose to negotiate regulations and allocation issues on a periodic basis. Also, in some cases, management authority was an issue. Different types of written agreements, approved by the courts, were used to set up institutional arrangements to coordinate management.
Soon after each court decision was made reaffirming the rights, a basic question that tribes pondered was how should the rights be implemented. The tribes signatory to the 1842 treaty looked to the northwest and saw that those tribes had formed an intertribal commission. The Ojibwa recognized that a braided rope is stronger than the individual strands of fiber and formed their own commission, called the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).