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UPDATE: Chairman Requests State Response After Destruction of Wild Rice by Non-Tribals

By Joe Morey

News Editor

After a recent incident that occurred on Dilly Lake in Washburn County whereby a non-tribal person was destroying wild race in the company of several migrants, LCO Chairman Louis Taylor sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Adam Payne. The incident was captured on camera by an LCO first descendant, Laura Merchant, who was gathering wild rice on the lake.

Merchant was on the lake with her husband and two others and had their permits and legal equipment. After last week’s article regarding the letter Chairman Taylor sent out, she reached out with further information per the incident.

Governor Evers also placed a call to Taylor since and said the DNR was following the law as far as citations issued. The only citation issued was to the owner of the boat.

The letter Taylor sent was in response to a citation being issued to the non-tribal person, but no charges were filed against the migrants. The non-tribal apparently told LCO Conservation Wardens that he would just ‘pay the fine.’

Merchant informed the LCO News that when they came upon the incident, her friend immediately made a call to the DNR hotline after the landowner spoke to them.

“I contacted a Tribal Warden who I was referred to by a St Croix Council Member that I’m friends with. I texted information and images to the warden who forwarded those on to the DNR State Warden who was assigned to investigate the case, at least that’s what I understand happened behind the scenes after our reporting,” Merchant stated.

Taylor’s letter stated, “The individual responsible for this incident was not actually harvesting the wild rice using any legally approved methods but instead was engaged in actions that essentially destroyed the wild rice. In this attempt at gathering rice, it was reported that this person was directing several boats with multiple personnel to "harvest" the wild rice by removing the entire plants from the rice bed which were then stockpiled on a pontoon boat. When confronted by tribal wardens regarding this destructive method of gathering the rice, the individual's response was to ‘send him a citation and he will pay the fine.’ State DNR wardens were contacted to assist in the matter.

Merchant clarified to LCO News that it wasn’t actually a pontoon boat, but a 2-person paddle boat pulling a canoe and a duck skiff/John boat behind it.

“The canoe and John boat were heavily laden with rice. The canoe actually began to sink into the water from the weight,” Merchant noted. “Canoes can hold 700-thousands of pounds so one can estimate that’s a lot of plants.”

The LCO Legal Department expressed their concern over the fact that the migrants weren’t cited at all, but that Tribal Members are cited for such things as simply hiding a spear in a boat.

Taylor’s letter to the governor and DNR secretary started off stating a “Non-tribal individual who was engaged in destroying wild rice on Dilly Lake (located in Washburn County in the 1837 treaty ceded territory) while ostensibly attempting to "harvest" the rice on Sunday, September 3, 2023. Note that the Lac Courte Oreilles Band exercises regulatory control over the lake to ensure a safe, respectful, and productive wild rice harvest for Ojibwe tribal members (and others) and regard this incident as a serious matter.

“As a reminder, the Tribe and the Department of Natural Resources have litigated many issues when it came to co-management of resources. The utter lack of response to this incident forces the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe to consider litigating this lack of enforcement. Harvesting wild rice is not a complex matter but must be done in a sustainable way that adheres to time-tested ancient gathering methods. Our members are trained in harvesting methods to ensure a fruitful harvest (before permits are issued) that protects the integrity of the lake and the rice bed. The Tribe has designated experienced harvesters as rice chiefs that check our rice beds, daily, to ensure a safe harvest. In no fashion whatsoever is the pulling of wild rice stalks ever permitted. The consequences of such methods by tribal harvesters would lead to confiscation of equipment, confiscation of the wild rice harvest, and a denial of the future ricing privileges. It is the tribe's concern that such sanctions will not be applied on non-tribal members. The destruction of a habitat is more serious than just a citation and the payment of a fine.”

Taylor requested a thorough report from the DNR on the incident including the sanctions and practices going forward to protect the rice beds.


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