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Red Lake to DNR: Save a walleye, fire a game warden

class=img_thumbleft>Last month, Gary Spaulding, a veteran game warden with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, mailed an unusual letter to Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, the chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. In his missive, Spaulding questioned whether the Red Lake band maintains exclusive rights to fish the waters that lie within the reservation boundaries.

After reciting the details of his review of various court decisions, Spaulding concluded it didn't. Never mind Red Lake's unusual legal status as one of just two "closed" reservations in the country. Never mind its long recognized dominion over the reservation waters. Barring a convincing explanation to the contrary, Spaulding declared that he was free to fish there. In fact, he wrote, he might even open a guide service on Lower Red Lake.

Spaulding did something else unusual--particularly for a law officer. He invited Jourdain to haul him into to court. "I would like to test the ownership of Red Lake in Federal Court," he wrote in the letter. "If you would like we could arrange to have me summoned into Federal Court for trespassing on Red Lake Reservation waters."

Reached by City Pages, Spaulding explains that he didn't intend for this proposition to be made public. "I wrote a private letter to the chief thinking he would do the professional thing and enter into some sort of dialogue, rather than a personal attack," Spaulding complains.

Bad calculation. While Jourdain did not respond directly to Spaulding, he did fire off a harshly worded letter to Spaulding's boss, DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam. Wrote Jourdain: "This represents the type of ignorant and racist mentality that native people have had to endure for centuries. Such bias by Officer Spaulding is both intolerable and unacceptable." Citing several provisions of the DNR's code of conduct, Jourdain then asked that Spaulding be fired.

Spaulding says he has yet to hear from any of his supervisors about the matter. He insists that he wrote Jourdain as a private citizen exercising his free speech rights, not in any official capacity.

And what of the threat to go fishing on Lower Red Lake on the walleye opener? "It was a hypothetical designed to elicit a response," Spaulding offers. "I would never do anything unless I was certain I was right. That's why I'm asking questions."

Since Spaulding's letter was first made public (on the website, Red Lake Net News), the 26-year game warden has received numerous phone calls and emails from the general public. He says they have all been "postive" and have encouraged him to pursue his cause.