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Start talking, not shooting

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The shooting incident last Wednesday morning, in which an off-duty employee of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fired a shot at two Rainy River First Nation men netting sturgeon on the river, shows just how strained relations are between the band and DNR.

And unless both sides start talking, there’s a very real danger the situation will get even more explosive. Only next time, a confrontation might lead to someone getting hurt--or worse.

The DNR, of course, was quick to distance itself from the shooting, saying it neither “condoned nor sanctioned” what it termed any “hostile actions” that may have occurred. It also is clear that the employee was acting on his own at the time.

As disturbing as last week’s incident was, most troubling is that the underlying tension between the two sides, stemming from the DNR’s decision to remove sturgeon from the river last fall to be re-stocked in the Red River system, has been allowed deteriorate so badly without at least an effort to engage in face-to-face dialogue.

Band chief Jim Leonard said they’ve never been able to sit down with the DNR, arguing it has never responded to them. But it’s also clear that messages left for local MP Robert Nault and local MPP Howard Hampton encouraging them to try to arrange a meeting have either proven fruitless--or fallen on deaf ears.

It high time that politicians on both sides of the river get their acts together and work hard to resolve this simmering dispute by getting both sides to the table now. Surely things haven’t gotten so bad that people have to resort to guns.

But that might be the case if the foot-dragging continues much longer. Hoping this whole matter will just fade away over time is simply wishful thinking.

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