ST. PAUL (AP) -- Leaders of eight of Minnesota's 11 tribes are demanding that the state's Department of Natural Resources commissioner resign for remarks he made last month likening American Indian hunting and fishing rights to "apartheid."
The leaders made the request in a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday.
Pawlenty defended Commissioner Gene Merriam in a later statement as "an inclusive man of fairness and the utmost integrity."
At issue are remarks Merriam made at an April 27 fund-raising event for the group Proper Economic Resource Management, which opposes tribal treaty hunting and fishing rights.
In an article in the weekly newspaper Outdoor News, Merriam is quoted as saying, in answer to a question regarding the treaty rights, "I think that any system of apartheid based upon race is inherently misdirected." He also said that his comments did not represent official DNR policy.
The tribal leaders called the remarks "offensive, hostile and completely unacceptable" in the letter.
"Comparing the legal exercise of treaty rights with one of history's most brutal and racist systems of government is outrageous and should be condemned by all Minnesotans," the leaders wrote.
It was signed by leaders of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Prairie Island Indian Community, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians, the Upper Sioux Community, the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa Indians, the Lower Sioux Indian Community and the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.
A spokesman for the Mille Lacs Band said leaders there were not available for comment Monday evening.
Merriam apologized for the comments in a statement from his own office, adding, "I fully respect and recognize the importance of their treaty rights." He said he hopes his relationship with tribes "is not irreparably damaged by these comments."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.