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Tribal lands offer sanctuary for Minnesota wolves

A trail camera set by the Red Lake tribal Department of Natural Resources photographed these two gray wolves in March 2010 on Minnesota's Northwest Angle. Wolves are an important animal in tribal culture and were protected on tribal lands even when the state had control of wolf management and offered hunting and trapping seasons. Courtesy photo / Jay Huseby, Red Lake Department of Natural Resources1 / 5
Four wolves running down a trail at the Northwest Angle were photographed by a trail camera the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Department of Natural Resources had set as part of ongoing research on gray wolves. Courtesy photo / Jay Huseby, Red Lake Department of Natural Resources2 / 5
Two gray wolves approach a deer carcass on Red Lake Nation tribal lands in this Jan. 29, 2018 trail camera image. The tribal Department of Natural Resources uses roadkill deer to attract wolves in an effort to trap and fit the animals with radiocollars as part of wolf research on reservation lands. Courtesy photo / Red Lake Department of Natural Resources3 / 5
Anton Treuer4 / 5
5 / 5

RED LAKE, Minn.—Gray wolves could again be fair game in Minnesota if federal rules change, but Red Lake Nation and other tribes in Minnesota will continue to protect the animal.

In 2010, the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources published its wolf management plan, making the Red Lake lands a sanctuary for gray wolves.

"Many believe that if wolves prosper, the people of Red Lake will prosper, and if wolf populations suffer, so will the Red Lake Nation," the plan reads.

Right now, control over wolves on Minnesota's non-tribal land is in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has been since December 2014. But prior to that, livestock producers and property owners had the right to protect themselves against wolf threats, and the DNR offered limited hunting and trapping seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Jay Huseby, wildlife director of the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources, worked on Red Lake's management plan in 2010.

"In a nutshell, Red Lake is very wolf protection-oriented," he said.

An ongoing wolf research program has been in place for the past 15 years or so, according to Huseby.

"We were capturing wolves this winter and we're taking a little break now because it's denning season," he said.

Huseby added that they use soft, padded traps to catch wolves. They'll then tranquilize them and use radio collars to track the wolves' location.

"Red Lake has a lot of land," Huseby added. "Not just around Red Lake, but they have scattered parcels up to the Canadian border, and the tribe also owns about 80 percent of the northwest Angle."

Following Red Lake's management plan and just before Minnesota's inaugural wolf season in 2012, the Tribal Executive Committee, the governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribes, passed a resolution that gave authority to each of the reservation governing bodies over the regulation of natural resources within their reservation boundaries. Minnesota Chippewa Tribes include White Earth, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage reservations.

That resolution led to White Earth also declaring their land a sanctuary for wolves and others not allowing wolves to be hunted on tribal lands.

Huseby also noted that the wolf represents a "minor clan" for Red Lake Nation.

"The wolf clan is one of the clans that is still widely represented in Ojibwe communities in Minnesota and often invoked as a spiritual guide," said Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University.

But not all Native Americans have the same perspective on wolves, he said.

"You have some Native folks who are avid trappers, and you have some who are running tribal government, and you have some who are very concerned about conservation and environmental issues," Treuer said.

The significance of wolves, or ma'iingan in Ojibwe, in Native American culture is highlighted in legends and oral history, the Red Lake management plan states. Tribal leaders and elders speak of the parallel fates of wolves and Native people.

As a clan animal, Treuer describes it as "part sigil for your health, like Game of Thrones, and part spiritual guide. And in former times used to be a little more prescriptive for what positions people would be groomed for in society."

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at jgandsey@bemidjipioneer.com. 

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