Sault tribe challenges Consent Decree

Tribe claims they never agreed

Michigan’s largest Native American tribe, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of  Chippewa Indians, is challenging the legal agreement governing fishing rights in Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes. They argue that as a sovereign nation, they cannot be compelled to follow rules created without their consent. The tribe has filed an appeal in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a trial to contest the latest Great Lakes fishing decree. This decree outlines how five Native American tribes, along with federal and state governments, share access to Michigan’s Great Lakes fish.

Covering nearly 19,000 square miles in lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior, the agreement stems from the 1836 Treaty of Washington, in which Michigan tribes retained fishing rights.

According to Bridge Michigan, speaking on Wednesday, Sault Chairperson Austin Lowes emphasized the tribe’s treaty right to determine when, where, and how its members fish. He criticized the requirement for Michigan’s agreement on fishing rights that the tribe originally ceded.

Tribe seeks expanded fishing rights with reduced state oversight.

The Sault tribe’s legal action reflects ongoing tensions in rewriting fishing rules due to changes in the lakes caused by invasive species and other factors. With declining whitefish populations and scarce salmon species, various fishing groups vie for access to diminishing resources.

The Sault tribe seeks expanded fishing rights and territories with reduced state oversight. However, the latest fishing decree, negotiated without their significant involvement, has led to disputes.

While the decree offers new fishing opportunities and gear allowances, including the use of gillnets, the Sault tribe contends it excludes them from prime waters and imposes excessive restrictions.

Expansion of Sault tribe fishing rights could provoke opposition from non-tribal fishing groups, particularly concerning the use of gillnets. These groups fear the impact on fish populations and the effectiveness of regulatory enforcement.

As legal battles unfold, the current fishing decree remains in force, with the Sault tribe complying with its terms.

Credit: Adapted from reporting by Bridge Michigan.