University Web site explores treaty rights, civility

Lynne Kozarek

The question of Indian treaty rights simmers beneath the surface of Minnesota public affairs, boiling over from time to time with a judicial decision or a burned effigy.
Now, the University has entered the fray with a site on the World Wide Web intended to provide a forum for treaty rights issues. The site was created to encourage civility and understanding in one of the state’s most contentious public debates.
University Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife George Spangler has spent the last year creating the Web site, which tracks the history of treaty rights and various viewpoints on the controversial issue. The site was opened to the public on Feb. 15.
Spangler created the Web site, he said, because the public is often misinformed about resource conservation and fishing treaties.
Christine Penney, a graduate student in fisheries and wildlife, helped Spangler create the site. Penney and Spangler worked together to gather information, and Penney put it on the Web.
Penney solicited information from many sources for the Web site. Groups such as the Mille Lacs band of Chippewa, Proper Economic Resource Management and the Minnesota Sportsfishing Congress contributed photos, personal stories and academic articles and research.
Penney said that she has had trouble getting information from sources opposed to treaty rights.
“The pro-treaty rights people love the site,” Penney said, “but the anti-treaty rights people hate it. They believe it is too biased toward the Indians.”
Spangler said, “We had several people who felt they didn’t want to contribute to a site that was clearly biased or which gave equal time to the other party.”
Penney acknowledges that the site may seem biased because the information she has received from the anti-treaty activists has been filled with “hearsay and innuendo.”
“Since this is a University site, all of the information on it has to be factual and documented,” Penney said. “I don’t think the anti-treaty rights (advocates) have access to a lot of documented information.”
Mark Rotz, chairman of the resource management organization, said he was unhappy with early versions of the site, but is pleased by the way Penney has updated it.
In the early version, “we took issue with a picture of sportsfishermen and a picture of spear fishing with a smoking gun between them,” Rotz said. “But we’re quite pleased that they’re trying to present both sides of the issue.”
Rotz said his organization doen’t believe that American Indians should have any special rights and that everyone should hunt and fish on equal terms.
Spangler and Penney said most sportsmen and sportswomen don’t have a problem with treaty rights to fishing.
Currently, treaty rights are being contested in state courts. Federal and state judges have, in the past, decided that American Indian activities cannot be regulated on reservations. In general, American Indians hunting or fishing outside the reservation must comply with state law.
Spangler and Penney solicited information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but department officials declined to participate in the Web project because of pending litigation in which the state is a party.