An economic development grant of $1 million from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community will allow the Red Lake Nation to open a commercial walleye processing operation this summer.
Red Lake Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. said the band plans to open the Redby fish processing plant in June. Rather than selling their fish in the round, Red Lake members will get a better price by filleting and freezing the catch themselves.
"We want to get the most we can out of our resources," he said.
Jourdain said the harvest would be strictly by hook and line, at least for the first two or three years. People's main concern, he said, is regulation of the resource and prevention of abuse. He said the lake is so large and the Red Lake Nation population has grown enough that regulating gill netting would not be feasible at this time.
The fishery would be a branch of Red Lake Foods, which currently markets wild berry jams and syrups and wild rice grown and harvested by tribal members on the reservation.
Jourdain said the walleye catch limit, which in 2006 was 10 fish per day on tribal waters, could be increased for the commercial fishery, but the harvest would not exceed the total quota. For example, for 2006 the maximum walleye harvest was 108,000 pounds for the state and 531,600 pounds for the band. If either jurisdiction reached its maximum, it must cease walleye fishing until the next season.
"The people are just so happy the resource has returned," Jourdain said.
The band controls all 164,990 acres of Lower Red Lake and 71,549 acres of 119,274-acre Upper Red Lake. Only band members are allowed to take fish from tribal waters.
The Red Lake Band opened the commercial fishery on Red Lake, the sixth largest natural, freshwater lake in the United States, in 1917 to help with the World War I effort to provide fresh meat for Minnesota citizens.
Through the years, the fishery supported several hundred commercial fishers and their families on the reservation. Populations of walleye in Red Lake collapsed in the mid-1990s, forcing the closure of the commercial fishery for the first time. Beginning in 1999, the Red Lake Nation entered a 10-year agreement with the state of Minnesota and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to restore the resource. Other partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Minnesota and the Red Lake Fisheries Association. The recovery process included a complete moratorium on walleye harvest and a large scale stocking effort. It was uncertain if the walleye stocks could actually be recovered.
The success the Red Lake walleye recovery team has had has brought the walleye population back from virtual extinction to an optimal level in seven years. Fishing for Red Lake walleye resumed last spring under a sustainable management plan guided by a technical committee of fishery experts.
"We appreciate that the Red Lake Tribal Council wants to make life better for its members," Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Stanley R. Crooks said in a press release. "It is very important to us to help other Indian people help themselves. It is an important step for tribal sovereignty for Red Lake to reopen their fishery and provide jobs and resources for their members."
Jourdain said Red Lake is grateful for the grant and will apply for another $1 million grant for the fishery operation next year.
"We have an ongoing relationship with Shakopee," he said. "They do make grants available for different kinds of endeavors in Indian Country. It'll get us off to a really good start. They prefer projects that have a real good plan, that have been given a lot of thought."
The Red Lake Reservation, which consists of 1,259 square miles, has a current population of more than 6,000 people. In 2006 the Mdewakanton Sioux awarded a $1 million grant to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa for a Boys & Girls Club, which is under construction near the Humanities Center and Powwow Grounds.
Over the last few years the SMSC has donated more than $75 million to Indian tribes and non-profit entities, including more than $18 million in fiscal year 2006. The Mdewakanton Sioux also makes payments to city and county government to cover the cost of services provided by those local jurisdictions to the tribe. The Mdewakanton Sioux are a federally recognized Indian tribe in Minnesota and own operate Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, Little Six Casino, Playworks, Dakotah! Sport and Fitness, and other enterprises on a reservation south of the Twin Cities.