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Winona LaDuke, Published December 07 2013

Letter: Thankful for a way of living

We celebrated Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the bounty of our land, and the Thanksgiving feasts are affirmation. This fall, I am especially grateful because on Nov. 25 a federal court in Minnesota recognized that Anishinaabe people have a right to continue the covenant with the creator to live that Anishinaabe life.

I am thankful to the Anishinaabeg men, including Michael Brown, Jerry Reyes, Frederick Tibbetts, Marc Lyons, and Larry Good, who in April were hauled into court by the state of Minnesota, charged with buying and selling walleyes from lakes on the Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations. The charges were dismissed.

I am thankful to these men and to our ancestors, who negotiated complex treaty agreements with the U.S. government in 1837, 1842, 1855 and 1867. Just think: At that time, many Americans were not literate, but our ancestors still were able to negotiate treaties, and with the help of interpreters, ensure the Anishinaabe of today would be able to eat and live as Anishinaabe.

Treaties are agreements among our ancestors. According to Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, treaties are the supreme law of the land. I am thankful we have a Constitution, which reminds us of our rights, and our covenant to each other. I wish Minnesota would recognize the Constitution.

Someone did. On Nov. 25, just before Thanksgiving, federal Judge John Tunheim upheld those agreements with the Anishinaabe. Tunheim dismissed the indictments, saying that the men were protected under the 1837 treaty. I am thankful.

I would like our people to live from a land that is well taken care of. I would like us to carry on our way of life in peace. To do this, treaty rights need to be respected, and our people need to eat the foods we were given. As Robert Shimek explained in a KKWE radio interview, “This is the classic clash between the culture of the state of Minnesota, the U.S., and those of our Indian people who uphold our Anishinaabe belief system and way of life. This is where we keep colliding in the courts because we were instructed to take care of this Earth in a certain type of way. And to respect and honor all things in the creation in a certain kind of way and to use these parts of the creation in a certain kind of order to sustain ourselves. It’s about two different ways: our life – an indigenous way of life – and the other way of life.”

At the time of the indictments, Jim Konrad, law enforcement director for Minnesota DNR called it a “very big deal.” That is because Minnesota continues to try to limit the Anishinaabe’s traditional way of life.

The 1837 Treaty provided that the “… Chippewa Indians would cede these territories to the United States in exchange for cash and goods. The privilege of hunting, fishing and gathering the wild rice upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guaranteed.”

George Aubid who inspired many of the Anishinaabe of today, once said:

“We do not have thousands upon thousands of dollars. We do not have great mansions of beauty. We do not have priceless objects of art … we do not need these things. What we do need, however, is what we already have. What we do need has been provided to us by the Great Spirit. We need to realize who we are and what we stand for. We are the keepers of that which the Great Spirit has given to us … our traditional way of life. We need to be Anishinaaabeg again.”

I’m thankful I am, and that I live here.

LaDuke is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and leads Native Harvest and the White Earth Land Recovery Project.