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White Earth celebrates new Tamarac Wildlife Refuge agreement

White Earth Nation Chairman Michael A. Fairbanks shakes hands with Will Meeks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after they sign a Memorandum of Agreement during a ceremony on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.
Contributed
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Sage Thompson via White Earth Nation
White Earth Nation Chairman Michael A. Fairbanks shakes hands with Will Meeks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after they sign a memorandum of agreement during a ceremony on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

The memorandum of agreement between White Earth and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't transfer ownership, but it does formalize a co-stewardship agreement.

MAHNOMEN— The White Earth Nation recently celebrated a new memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the use and management of the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge consists of about 42,500 acres in Becker County, with nearly half located within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation.

It was established in 1938 to serve as a breeding ground and sanctuary for migratory birds and wildlife.

White Earth band members have hunted, fished and gathered since time immemorial on what is now known as the Tamarac Refuge.

The MOA removes duplicative permitting requirements for band members to hunt, fish and gather in the refuge.

The new agreement also commits both parties to develop a co-stewardship agreement, which a White Earth news release states would “empower the Band to play a more substantial role in safeguarding and conserving this refuge, ensuring its preservation for future generations.”

White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks said the new agreement marks a milestone in the government-to-government relationship between the White Earth Band and the federal government, allowing White Earth to contribute more to the refuge's conservation.

“With deep cultural ties to this land, [the White Earth Nation] has consistently regarded itself as its guardian and steward," Fairbanks said. "We are excited about the opportunity to formalize a co-stewardship agreement that will enable us to contribute more to preserving this special place.”

Wild rice stands at the Mitchell Bridge in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.
Contributed
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wild rice stands at the Mitchell Bridge in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

In a news release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has worked with the White Earth Nation's natural resource officials for decades, and the MOA will increase collaboration for conservation and research.

"We are proud of the long and productive history with our conservation partners in the Natural Resource Department of White Earth Nation and look forward to future collaborations," the release stated.

The MOA does not transfer ownership or management of the refuge to the White Earth Nation nor alter current hunting or fishing practices.

"We are taking crucial steps to protect and support our citizens’ rights to engage in treaty-protected activities," Fairbanks said. "We deeply appreciate the support and collaboration that has made this endeavor possible."