On Thursday, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee heard HF3280, a bill introduced by Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, "nullifying and restricting the application of certain water quality standards." While Lueck calls the bill "protection" for wild rice, it's anything but.
Indeed, steel industry lobbyists touched on the point in testimony that there need be no water quality regulation whatsoever protecting wild rice. Watch the whole thing here--we recommend Kathryn Hoffman of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy's detailed review of the bill that begins at the 55 minute mark in the video archive here.
At a certain point, Rep. Jamie Becke-Finn, DFL-Roseville and a descendant* of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe,asks Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington, if he has talked to native people about the bill, given that he represents the epicenter of Minnesota's wild rice waters.
Bliss replies that he hadn't asked native people in his district about the Lueck bill, but last fall, he had asked his neighbors and friends about the wild rice harvest and learned it was bountiful.
Becker-Finn suggests that committee members from districts with native communities ask their native constituents what they think of the legislation. Bliss's district is home to many native people, according to the District Demographics linked on his member page. Here's a screengrab of those figures:
With 18 percent of his district being native people (a figure that rises to over 21 percent when people with a native heritage in combination with other races), one out of five people in Bliss's district are native.
It's likely that some, if not most, of those neighbors and friends who gathered wild rice are members of those communities, since (if we are to believe a 2014 letter supporting his unsuccessful county commissioner bid) Bliss worked for native businesses:
Matt currently works for the Red Lake Nation as head of their IT department. Before that he was with Grand Casinos in Hinckley and Onamia for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. . . .
Bliss's campaign website profile from 2016 doesn't mention those jobs, as he appears to have moved on to owning a resort.
But having native friends isn't the same as asking them directly what they think about a policy change that could greatly affect their enjoyment of wild rice, which is sacred to Ojibwe people. Bliss would have to be ignorance to have missed this central cultural fact while he worked for the Red Lake Nation and the Mille Lacs Band.
We do hope that his constituents catch on that the protection in Don Davis' headline, New wild rice protection begins move through Legislature, is purely Orwellian:
Sharon Day of the Indigenous People's Task Force and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa said she considers the Lueck bill "an attack on the Ojibwe people" who depend on wild rice for food, money and spiritual needs.
Kathryn Hoffman of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said there are no easy answers to the question about protecting wild rice, but "the Legislature is not a good forum for doing scientific work."
She said that Lueck's bill, if it becomes law, would make the situation unclear. "The only certainty of this bill is that it will bring litigation."
Here's the moment between Becker Finn and Bliss:
Photo: People harvesting wild rice.
*Correction: This post originally identified Rep. Becker-Finn as an enrolled member of the Leech Lake nation; she contacted Bluestem to correct the record as she in a descendant of the band. Bluestem regrets the error.
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