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Deal on fishing, hunting rights in Michigan reached

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By John Flesher -- Associated Press

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Five American Indian tribes will regulate hunting, fishing and plant gathering by their members on millions of acres in Michigan under a tentative agreement announced Sept. 26 with the state.

Supporters hope the proposal will end decades of bickering over what rights Indians retained when they signed away ownership of land that amounts to 37 percent of the state. The 1836 treaty helped lead to Michigan acquiring statehood the next year.

State officials and the leaders of most tribes and sporting groups were lining up behind the plan, saying it doesn't give the tribes all they want but does protect their interests.

It ''will provide stability and predictability in an area of former legal uncertainty,'' said Rebecca Humphries, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The case dates to 1973, when the federal government sued seeking state recognition of tribal rights under the 1836 treaty.

''If you lived through the '70s, all that animosity - it was just a very bad situation,'' said Joseph C. Raphael, former chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. ''We all wanted to keep that from happening again. Is everyone going to be satisfied? Absolutely not, but this is something for the good of all.''

The proposed consent decree needs approval of each tribe's government and U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen to take effect. Several have already signed on, while the largest tribe - the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians - submitted the pact to its 23,870 adult members for a referendum.

Conservation and property rights groups that observed the negotiations described the agreement as ''tough but fair.''

''We have worked to ensure healthy and sustainable game and fish populations, to protect private property rights and to preserve Michigan's sportspersons' heritage,'' said Dennis Muchmore, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

In a statement, the Burt Lake Preservation Association voiced ''disappointment with the negotiation process because there was little public involvement.'' The group said it feared the deal would put the lake's walleye fishery at risk.

''But we must accept the conclusion and work towards a positive resolution with the state and the tribes,'' the association said.

Tribal leaders say they have demonstrated over many generations their responsible stewardship of natural resources.

''We've wanted all along to make sure people wouldn't feel the need to lash out because they were afraid we were going to destroy the resource,'' said Jimmie Mitchell, natural resources director for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians based in Manistee.

The proposal affects much of the western and northern Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula.

The five tribes are the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Sault Tribe, the Little River Band, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Grand Traverse Band.

All five tribes will be empowered to create their own regulations. Three currently have regulations. Two others will be developing them.