Michigan, American Indian Tribes Reach Deal on Hunting, Fishing

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 Wednesday 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 does not 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 proposed consent decree needs approval of each tribe's government and a federal judge to take effect. Several have already signed on, while the largest tribe — the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians — has submitted the pact to its 29,000 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.

The proposal affects much of Michigan's 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 of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.