Chippewa farmer sues DNR in federal court
For over a year now, four different lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Invasive Species Order on swine have been making their way through Michigan county courts. Recently a fifth lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Michigan challenging the swine ISO on grounds that an 1842 Treaty between the Lake Superior Chippewa Indian Tribe and the United States of America controls over any Michigan laws. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) is serving as custodian of the funding provided for the lawsuit.
The plaintiff in the case, FTCLDF member Brenda Turunen, is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), a federally recognized tribe located in the Upper Peninsula. Turunen, along with her husband Roger (who is a plaintiff in one of the four state court lawsuits challenging the ISO), raises heritage breed hogs in Baraga County on land that is adjacent to the KBIC reservation. Turunen’s complaint states, “KBIC is the modern day successor in interest of the L’Anse and Ontonagon Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.…Both the L’Anse and Ontonagon Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians were signatories to the 1842 Treaty.”
The 1842 Treaty ceded portions of the Western Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin to the United States; in exchange, the treaty reserved to the Indian signatories the right to hunt in the territory ceded to the U.S. along with the other usual privileges of occupancy.” Turunen’s complaint argues that the historical record shows the phrase, “the other usual privilege of occupancy,” includes the right to commercially farm land within the Ceded Territory. The complaint points out that the policy of the United States at the time of the 1842 Treaty was to “encourage commercial farming, including animal husbandry activities,” among American Indians and that “subsequent to the negotiation and signing of the 1842 Treaty, the United States provided pigs and other domestic animals to KBIC’s predecessors in interest.”
|Photo courtesy of Brenda Turunen|
In addition to Keith Creagh, the Director of the Michigan DNR, the suit also names Jamie Clober Adams, the Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) as a defendant. The complaint notes, among other things, that MDARD has attempted to interfere with plaintiff’s business “by arbitrarily disapproving certificates of veterinary inspection issued by her veterinarian for animal shipped” to markets in New York and Pennsylvania and “by engaging in a pattern of harassment targeted at plaintiff’s veterinarian in order to discourage him from working go for Plaintiff.”
Like the lawsuits challenging the ISO in the state courts, the main thrust of Turunen’s complaint against DNR centers on the department’s Declaratory Ruling of December 2011 in which DNR disclosed it would determine whether a hog was prohibited based on its physical characteristics, not on whether it was actually feral; according to the declaratory ruling, a pig with a curly tail can be prohibited as can a pig with a straight tail. The complaint notes that in 2006 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Invasive Species Advisory Council approved an “Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper”. The White Paper states,
It is also essential to recognize that invasive species are not those under human control or domestication; that is, invasive species are not those that humans depend upon for economic security, maintaining a desirable quality of life, or survival. 
In an April press release announcing her lawsuit, Turunen said,
I have always believed that every American has the right to farm, a right that should be protected and promoted by the government. It is disturbing to watch these state agencies attack farmers, trying to make them into criminals. I feel sorry for the farmers of Michigan who have to deal with such agencies and I thank God that my right to farm is protected by the 1842 Treaty.
Baraga attorney Joseph O’Leary is representing Turunen in the lawsuit. The Michigan state Attorney General’s office has filed an answer to the complaint asking the court to dismiss the case; Turunen has filed a response opposing the state’s motion.
The swine ISO is an issue that will not go away for DNR; more people are realizing it is a threat to genetic diversity, property rights, the ability of small farmers to make a living and consumer choice. The opposition to the order will only increase as the court challenges to the ISO progress.
The plaintiffs in the other cases are heritage hog farmer and FTCLDF member Mark Baker, game preserve operator Greg Johnson, pet hog owner Matt Tingstad and heritage breed hog farmer Roger Turunen.
1 Definitions Subcommittee of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), “Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper“, 26 April 2006.
[http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/docs/council/isacdef.pdf] [Back to Top]
Baraga Co. Pig Farmer Battles State of Michigan
By Reporter Rick Allen | April 16, 2013 – ABC 10
A pig farm in Baraga County is in danger of being shut down by the state because of the type of animal they breed. ABC Ten’s Keweenaw Bureau Reporter Rick Allen has the details.
Native American Pig Farmer Fights for Rights
By Reporter Jennifer Perez | April 18, 2013 – TV6
BARAGA — A farmer and Native American with the Keeweenaw Bay Indian Community is suing the state of Michigan in federal court over its ban on exotic pigs. [Read more]
Baraga County Farmers Continue Legal Battle, Add Federal Front to Hog Farming Question
By Stephen Anderson | May 7, 2013 – The Daily Mining Gazette
BARAGA TOWNSHIP – Husband and wife Roger and Brenda Turunen, Baraga County pig farmers, are continuing a legal battle to protect their livelihood against a Michigan Department of Natural Resources order that could declare their breed of pig an invasive species.
The Turunens have developed hundreds of old-world “Hogan Hogs,” a breed of pig able to withstand the Upper Peninsula’s harsh winters. It “is in demand locally, statewide and nationally for its moderate temperament, hardiness, tasty meat and its outward resemblance to the wild Eurasian boar,” according to a statement from Brenda.
[Read full article]