Idle No More Duluth, based in northern Minnesota, is using the recent federal court ruling that put the gray wolf back on the endangered species list to call for respect by non-Natives of hunting bans enacted on most Minnesota Ojibwe tribal lands.
The December ruling halted wolf hunts, which have taken place in at least six lower 48 states since the gray wolf was delisted from endangered species designation. Minnesota’s first wolf hunt was in 2012.
All of the Ojibwe tribal nations within Minnesota have outlawed hunting or trapping of wolves within their reservation boundaries. The snag, though, comes on reservations checkerboarded with non-Native ownership within reservation boundaries since the General Allotment Act of 1887. While virtually all lands within the Red Lake and Grand Portage reservations’ boundaries are held by the tribe or tribal members, others are like Leech Lake and White Earth, where 10 percent or less of lands within reservation boundaries are tribally held.
So although the tribes have banned wolf hunts within their reservations, the question arises over whether bans can be upheld on non-tribally-held parcels.
In the past, tribal leaders like the chairwomen of the Sandy Lake Band of Mississippi Chippewa and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have emphasized authority within the reservations. “Certainly we’ll be keeping a close eye on all of our borders,” Fond du Lac chairperson Karen Diver told Minnesota Public Radio before the 2012 hunt. “And we are asking non-band member hunters to respect the outer boundaries of the Fond du Lac reservation and not hunt within our borders.”
“In the Native American culture, the wolf is a sacred animal and part of our clan system also,” Sandy Lake Band of Mississippi Chippewa Chairwoman Sandy Skinaway told Martha Fast Horse on her radio show in November, when the hunt was still active. “I believe the wolf is our relative … [it] is a clan animal.”
“Here in Minnesota, the major contention is the statewide wolf hunt prescribed by the state that refuses to acknowledge the territorial jurisdiction of the tribes and the importance of a healthy relationship between Ma’iingan (Wolf) and Anishinaabe,” Ojibwe elder Bob Shimek, Red Lake, wrote in a February 2014 essay, “The Wolf is My Brother! The Cultural, Spiritual and Historic Relationship Between the Ojibwe Anishinaabe and Ma’iingan of the Great Lakes.”
Although the hunt has been stopped for now, the issue will arise again. Congressional moves are already afoot to pass legislation overriding the court ruling. U.S. representatives from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming are all involved in the effort. Idle No More Duluth’s initiative intends to lay the groundwork for respecting tribal boundaries and laws before such moves again change the laws.
“We are trying to normalize the idea of thinking about sovereignty,” said Reyna Crow with Idle No More Duluth. “This is all ceded territory. What could be more culturally significant than Ma’iingan? This is an opportunity to reaffirm that tribal sovereignty. If we introduced this now, we’re not asking for more than what the tribes have already asserted.”
Part of the current initiative is to broadly spread understanding of how Wolf integrates into Ojibwe culture. Idle No More is distributing the essay by Shimek, a Red Lake member on the forefront of the wolf hunt issue since the 1990s. “The Wolf is My Brother!” will be offered to legislators and others as they develop policies affecting the wolves.
“People are somewhat aware, but they really don’t understand,” Crow said. Because of the Ojibwe history and narrative of Wolf as the first companion, the wolf hunt, used for recreation and trophy taking, “always feels like an attack on the people,” she added.
“How can the state of Minnesota, after years of hard lessons, legislate a new variety of colonialism and racism directed at Anishinaabeg without consultation or consent?” wrote Shimek in his essay. “The statewide wolf hunting, trapping and snaring season has been become problematic for tribes to manage their resources as they see fit. Minimally, if there is something rare, endangered special, or sacred to the Minnesota Ojibwe tribes, they should be allowed to care for it within Indian Reservations boundaries. This article begins an effort to close the gaps in understanding and relationships between the two cultures as it is related to Ma’iingan.”
The Anishinaabe have a strong relationship with Wolf, Shimek wrote. In fact what happens to Wolf—whether it survives and thrives—happens also to the Anishinaabe people. The connection between Wolf and the Ojibwe is not simply a story from the past, Shimek wrote. There are stories of men in war or children escaping from boarding schools who were befriended in times of need.
“Modern oral history of Minnesota Anishinaabeg is a rich and fulfilling one,” Shimek recounted. “An important thread of this history highlights the assistance the wolf gives to Anishinaabeg men who put on the military uniform and go overseas to fight in numerous conflicts for the United States.”
Shimek and Crow hope that understanding such connections will move legislators as they discuss reinstituting a wolf hunt.
“The bands in their various resolutions have been clear as to their decision and intent,” Crow said in an Idle No More statement. “Now it’s up to the rest of us to explicitly reaffirm our intent to respect those decisions and fully honor the letter and spirit of our treaties with our Anishinaabee neighbors in Northern Minnesota.”