Listen: Wisconsin Indian spearfishing ends with protest

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MPR’s Jim Meumann reports on protests against Chippewa tribe spearfishing at Butternut Lake in Wisconsin.

The Chippewa hunting and fishing rights, including spearfishing, were first granted in 19th century treaties and affirmed by federal courts.

[PLEASE NOTE - Audio contains offensive language]


1987 Minnesota AP Award, first place in Spot and Hard News category

1987 Minnesota AP Award, Best in Show category

1987 Northwest Broadcast News Association Award, award of merit in Feature category


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JAMES NEWMAN: Early police blockades kept most non-Indians away from the lake shore. But at dusk, when 13 Indians slipped their small craft into the calm waters of Butternut Lake, they were immediately confronted by dozens of angry white protesters. As the Indians roamed the shallow, searching for larger walleyes that spawn close to shore, they were continuously circled by boats filled with protesters. Police patrols stood watch, but did little to stop the gauntlet of curses the Indians had to run to return to shore.

SPEAKER 1: They were pushing the boats that they were coming by, splashing water, spitting-- trying to spit on us, I guess.

JAMES NEWMAN: The Chippewa hunting and fishing rights, including spear fishing, were first granted in 19th century treaties, and recently affirmed by federal courts. But Bonnie Patterson and other protesters say those rights are outdated.

BONNIE PATTERSON: When they made these treaties years ago, they had to make their spears. They had a birchbark canoe. That was for-- right. And it was for survival.

Now we're building them houses. We're paying for their education. We're giving them food stamps. They're on welfare. They're bums don't need our fish and our deer and our trees.

JAMES NEWMAN: As DNR district director Dave Jacobson looked on in dismay, he said something has got to give.

DAVID JACOBSON: What we're seeing here is a culture clash. I think that in spite of the fact that they have these rights, they don't fit well in modern society.

JAMES NEWMAN: But Mole Lake tribal chairman Arlyn Ackley disagrees.

ARLYN ACKLEY: Treaties is a law of the land. And we've got to be respected. We've held our bargain by our ceding the territory for all the sports people have their fun. When it comes down for us to have a resource share that right to exploit them, then they don't want to share.

JAMES NEWMAN: Ackley and other Indian leaders say they may be willing to further reduce, but not to eliminate the right to spear. While this night, only four small walleye would be taken, some 20,000 were speared during the month-long season. And though that's only a fraction of the non-Indian harvest, most protesters say if spearing rights are not dropped before next season, they'll be back in force.

ARLYN ACKLEY: Timber nigger. You're lucky you've got police protection tonight, boy.

JAMES NEWMAN: In Butternut Lake, I'm James Newman.


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