Indian tribes can once again hunt deer at night off-reservation in northern Wisconsin, under an order issued recently by a federal judge in Madison.
Leading the representation of the tribes in this case, which has been working its way through the courts for more than two decades, was a team from the Mitchell Hamline Indian Law Program led by Professor Colette Routel.
Routel said the Ojibwe are hoping the decision leads to a “re-setting of the relationship” with the state of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has banned off-reservation night deer hunting for years, arguing it was unsafe. The tribes have argued they should be able to hunt at night in a part of Wisconsin—roughly the northern one-third—that they ceded to the government in the 1800s.
In 1991, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state’s ban on night hunting applied to the tribes, but the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last year ordered her to reconsider that decision in light of regulations the tribes proposed to improve safety. Crabb’s recent order, on Oct. 13, found those regulations adequate, and the night hunt will be allowed to proceed with the start of hunting season Nov. 1.
Throughout the legal process, several Mitchell Hamline students have worked with Routel, assisting her with filing motions, preparing briefs, working with witnesses, taking depositions, and even serving as second chairs during the trial.
“Being able to work toward the recognition of Indian treaty rights has been a goal of mine for a number of years, and is what I aspire to do after graduation. It was a great experience, not only because I was able to do so while still attending law school, but also because of the skills and experience relating to treaty rights and appellate advocacy that I gained along the way,” said Dyllan Linehan, a third-year student who worked on the case with Routel this fall.
Peter Rademacher ’14 did a variety of tasks related to the case, including document review, assisting with expert depositions, and outlining direct and cross examinations. He now practices in the area of Indian law.
“My educational experience during the night deer hunt case, at both the trial and appellate level, was exceptional. I did more than hone my research and writing skills; I learned how to actually practice the law, something you cannot learn in a traditional classroom setting. And that experience enabled me to enter my career with momentum. Today, I am fortunate enough to continue practicing federal Indian law, and I carry into my practice much of what I learned during the night deer hunt case. I believe it helped me become a better attorney,” said Rademacher.
Routel said around the time the treaties were executed, in the mid-1800s, the Ojibwe used to hunt deer at night using torches to light the way. She said it’s likely they haven’t done any off-reservation night hunting in decades, though each of the six tribes has continued to hunt at night on reservation land.
She said these and other Indian treaty rights are seen by some as “special” allowances that ought to be left in the past, a position she finds “curious” given the length of time they’ve been in place.
“Usually, in other contexts, the longer you’ve had something the more people view it as a right,” Routel said.