Holding true to her promise, Rep. Sondra Erickson authored a bill to allow for two members of the Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Advisory Committee to attend the meetings of the Fishery Technical Committee. The bill received some push back and raised questions of government transparency and whether or not such a bill could even be enforceable.
The bill was first introduced by Erickson (R) to the House in February and has since been amended. The amended version was heard in the Environment and Natural Resource Policy and Finance Committee on Thursday, March 29. The original House File 2732 section 1 states, “the commissioner of natural resources must invited at least two members of the Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Advisory Committee to attend all meetings of the 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Technical Committee.”
The amended version of the bill changed the word “must” to “may.” Erickson argued the amended proposed bill is “permissive” and is at the will of the DNR commissioner “if he chooses.”
What is the FTC?
The 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Committee is part of the United States Supreme Court’s protocols spelled out in Minnesota v. Mille Lacs case. Per the protocol, people qualified to participate in meetings include fisheries scientists and fisheries managers from the state, the Bands and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). A number of years ago, the FTC mutually agreed to permit the chairs of House and Senate Environment/Natural Resources Committees to observe (listen in) but not participate. Members of MLFAC have repeatedly expressed concern the FTC meetings are held in secrecy and have said they do not believe the DNR is completely honest with them as to what happens during the meetings. The DNR has continued to say those feelings are unjustified, stating the DNR is, in fact, being transparent.
DNR Fisheries chief Don Pereira has told MLFAC on numberous occasions the DNR has previously asked the FTC to allow designated members of MLFAC to observe the FTC meetings, and those requests have not met with approval. Pereira said members of the FTC feel the meetings are technical and members of the legislature are already allowed to observe. Those legislators should be relaying the information back to their constituents, he said.
House file 2732
The amended bill was heard in the Environment and Natural Resource policy and finance committee on March 29. Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL) asked Erickson if she had consulted with the tribes directly regarding MLFAC representation at the FTC meetings. Erickson replied she had not spoken directly with the Bands.
“I am just not sure what we are doing here when one of the parties represented has not been consulted,” Becker-Finn said. She continued with confusion, wondering, “why [do] we need to legislate something we may not even be able to enforce against a sovereign nation.”
“We represent the state of Minnesota,” Erickson said. “We don’t represent the eight Bands under the agreement. This is permissible language for the commissioner if he chooses.”
Becker-Finn argued, “You can’t make the tribes add additional requirements to their nation-to-nation agreement regarding the setup of the technical committee. We do not have jurisdiction to order the tribes to do anything.”
Rep. Dale Lueck (R) said the protocol of the FTC has been discussed since the Supreme Court ruling in 1999 and feels the idea “we are not consulting with them is ridiculous.”
Lueck went on to say it is a “gut-wrenching feeling” that people don’t understand what happens at the FTC meetings. Opening [the meetings] will “end some of the bitterness and divisiveness that has been going on 20 years.”
Rep. Mark Uglem (R) agreed with Lueck, stating “transparency in government is good.”
Rep. Peter Fisher (DFL) said he feels the bill is sending
“some messages that may not be intended.” He continued stating the bill minimizes the sovereign governments of the tribes by mandating a new protocol. “I am not seeing a reach-out to the tribes,” Fisher said. “It feels disrespectful to the tribes.”
Becker-Finn added the U.S. Supreme Court outlined some of the “games that were played by the federal government” in the court opinion. “I bring that up because I think it speaks to the long standing distrust from a lot of Native folks when it comes to things forced upon them. If we are really serious about coming to a place where we can move past some of the hard feelings, pushing legislation without conversations - us dictating something, forcing one side to do something – is not how we move past a place.”
Erickson replied, “The Bands don’t come to us and ask us, so these are two different entities. I am speaking on behalf of the state of Minnesota. This is just the way it is. I am working with the DNR and not with GLIFWC and not with the Bands.”
The bill was laid over, meaning postponed, with no further discussion at that time.