After several months of growing tension between the Rainy River First Nation band and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, both sides came away smiling from the meeting table yesterday.
Chief Jim Leonard met with DNR Commissioner Rod Sando in St. Paul, Mn. to discuss fishery management on Rainy River.
“It is with great pleasure that we can report that our meeting with . . . Sando was very positive,” Chief Leonard said. “[He] listened carefully to our issues of concern.
“I feel confident that we have taken the first step toward a working relationship that will work to resolve misunderstandings such as we have had in the past over the management of the fishery,” he added.
Tuesday’s meeting was sparked by an incident April 29 in which two band members were shot at near the Long Sault by an off duty DNR employee while they were netting sturgeon for the reserve’s hatchery.
Thomas Crumpton, 39, faces charges of second-degree assault and reckless discharge of a firearm. A police investigation continues, as well as a personnel investigation by the DNR.
“I was anxious to meet with the First Nations leadership to convey our concern over this unfortunate incident,” Sando said. “And to begin to build an atmosphere where we can share information about the Rainy River, a resource important to both of us.”
Actually, tension between the two started last fall when the band found out the DNR was netting sturgeon to be transplanted in the Red River system.
A few days later, the band went out and removed three DNR nets from the mouth of the river near Lake of the Woods.
Yesterday’s meeting was the first time the two parties have sat down to talk. And both implied it wouldn’t be the last.
“Rainy River First Nation and the Minnesota DNR are both committed to the protection, conservation, and revitalization of the Rainy River, its tributaries, shoreline, and fisheries,” Chief Leonard said.
“I am confident that this will lead to a working relationship that will allow us to address issues of current concern and to avoid conflicts in the future,” Sando noted.
“The important thing to both of us is the health of the Rainy River and its fisheries,” he stressed.