TOLEDO (TDB) -- The Ottawa's were among the region's original residents before they were forced out of Ohio by federal agents in the 1830s. Now, The Daily Bellwether has learned U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary has ruled their rights to fish and hunt in Ohio unfettered by state rules have been extinguished. The economic stakes were high: Lake Erie's sports and recreational fishing industry is a billion dollar annual business. The judge's decision was a victory for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which claimed the tribe wanted access to commercial fishing rights on Lake Erie and inland waters without significant government oversight. The state feared the lake's stocks of walleye, perch and other gamefish would be devastated by the tribe's claim to public lands and waters.
There were suspicions outside the lawsuit that the Indians were actually angling for a casino -- that they would barter the Lake Erie fishing rights away for a gambling license.
Zahoury analyzed several treaties from the 1800s and said he found little evidence the Ottawa's preserved their hunting and fishing rights. The Indians were first sent to Kansas, then relocated to Oklahoma. They have lost and regained federal recognition and have not prospered:
"The hardship brought upon the Ottawa Tribe following their removal from Ohio was severe. Despite the tribe's identified hardships, the delay in asserting treaty rights to hunt and fish in Ohio is unreasonable. This delay is asserting hunting and inland fishing rights is also prejudicial to Defendant [Ohio], and as such bars recovery of these claims. Plaintiff has, however, established a dispute of material facts surrounding the prejudice to Defendant of asserting treaty rights to fish in Lake Erie, specifically the impact of commercial fishing on current conservation levels. Nevertheless, after examining all treaties identified by the parties, the Treaty of 1831 extinguished any treaty-based right for the Ottawa Tribe to fish in Lake Erie. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and this case is dismissed."
The case is Ottawa Tribe v. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Case No. 3:05 CV 7272, Northern District of Ohio. The judge said he was not unmoved by the tribe's plight after it was ejected from its Midwestern homeland.
"Federal agents enforced the treaty by removing members of the Ottawa Tribe from Ohio. During the 700 mile journey to Kansas, nearly have of the roughly 300 Ottawas died from hunger and disease. Upon arriving in Kansas, the Ottawa tribe transitioned from hunting and fishing to farming. This lifestyle provided minimum subsistence, and the problems of disease and alcoholism that had originated before their removal, increased."