September 17, 2003
Lansing, MI - Attorney General
Mike Cox announced today that his office has filed pleadings in
federal court asking for judicial resolution of an inland hunting and
fishing rights dispute between the state and five Michigan tribes over
whether the tribes' legal rights to hunt and fish on nearly 40 percent
of Michigan's land acreage have expired.
The dispute revolves around language in the 1836 Treaty of Washington
giving the tribes rights until "the land is required for settlement."
The state is asserting that hunting, fishing and other rights retained
by the tribes in the inland areas covered by the Treaty have expired
in virtually all non-reservation areas. The land mass in question
includes much of the Lower Peninsula north of the Grand River and the
eastern half of the Upper Peninsula and totals approximately
13,837,207 acres, or roughly 37 percent of the acreage in the state.
The tribes are expected to claim that they retain all of those rights
wherever land is open to the public for hunting and fishing today.
This would include all public lands in the Treaty area, as well as
private lands, that are open to the public for hunting and fishing.
In recent years, the five Treaty tribes have implemented the licensing
and regulation of tribal hunting and inland fishing seasons for public
and private lands without a court decision affirming their right to do
so. The tribal laws allow greater opportunities to tribal members than
state law in terms of season, species, and regulations. These greater
opportunities are extremely controversial among the public and
needlessly expose tribal members to the risk of prosecution under
"The current confusion over inland tribal hunting and fishing rights
benefits no one and casts doubt over Michigan's ability to
appropriately manage its natural resources," said Cox. "For the sake
of all parties involved, and so we can ensure proper protection of our
natural resources, this legal question must be solved."
The Attorney General has taken this action at the request of Michigan
Department of Natural Resources Director K.L Cool and is supported by
the Governor's office.
"Legal uncertainty is bad public policy," Cool said. "Michigan's
natural resources need and deserve clear, concise management. Our
state needs to understand its legal management jurisdiction. We look
forward to achieving legal resolution to this long-standing
Litigation over the meaning and effect of the Treaty began in state
courts in 1971 and in federal courts in 1973 in connection with
disputes over tribal member use of large mesh gill nets on the Great
Lakes. Both the Michigan courts and the federal courts addressed the
issue of whether the tribes' Great Lakes rights had been extinguished
because the Treaty area had been "required for settlement." Both court
systems found that the Great Lakes would never be "settled" within the
meaning of the Treaty and, therefore, that these tribes' right to fish
in those waters would always exist. The courts, however, did not
address the question of inland hunting and fishing rights.
There are currently five federally recognized Indian tribes that are
political successors to the signatories to the Treaty: the Bay Mills
Indian Community in Brimley, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and
Chippewa Indians in Peshawbestown, the Little River Band of Ottawa
Indians in Manistee, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in
Petoskey, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Sault
further information contact: Sage Eastman
State of Michigan, Department of Attorney General