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An MPR special documentary report titled, "Spearing on Lakes of Fire", narrated by Chris Tetlin. The report presents fishing debate over Chippewa Indian/U.S. Government treaty in northern Wisconsin. The controversy centers on walleyes, but there's much more at stake than fish.

The Chippewa, also known as the Ojibwe, once controlled the entire northern third of Wisconsin, along with huge parts of Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada. When they ceded the Wisconsin territory to the United States, Chippewa leaders signed treaties preserving their rights to hunt and fish on that land. The spring ritual of spearfishing walleye is the modern descendant of that agreement. Now, hundreds of non-Indians in northern Wisconsin want to gut the treaties. They say the agreements are simply antiques; that it's time the spearfishing stopped.

Court interpretations of the treaties will determine who controls much of the natural resources in northern Wisconsin - timber, wildlife and minerals. Native American people are fighting similar land and resource battles across the country, including the Chippewa of Minnesota…and they're watching as the conflict burns in Wisconsin.

[Please note: Program contains offensive and racist language]

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

summer is here and with it the annual ceremony of Sportfishing across the country tourist flood areas where the fishing is good like the lake country of Northern Wisconsin, but some people in Wisconsin say the fishing isn't what it used to be and they're angry that anger turns into fiery protest each spring when Chippewa Indians go to Wisconsin's Lakes Des Pere walleye the protester say the Chippewa are destroying the walleye population the Chippewa once controlled the entire Northern third of Wisconsin as well as parts of Minnesota, Michigan and Canada when they ceded the Wisconsin Territory to the United States Chippewa leaders signed treaties preserving their right to hunt and fish on that land the spring ritual of spear fishing walleye is the modern descendant of that agreement now hundreds of non-indians in northern Wisconsin want to gut the treaties they say the Agreements are simply antiques that it's time to spearfishing stopped but the controversy involves much more than fish Court interpretations ofTreaties will determine who controls much of the natural resources in northern Wisconsin Timber wildlife and minerals American Indian. People are fighting similar land and resource battles across the country and they're watching as the conflict burned in Wisconsin today. We have a special documentary report titled spearing on lakes of Fire. little bit more It's been only two weeks since the ice melted from Lake Gordon in northern Wisconsin. It's a clear night the temperature around freezing and 10 boats of Chippewa spearfishers Cruise slowly along the shoreline searching for walleye pulling a little bit more. They write on outside of you. Walleye spawn this time of year when the water is still cold at night. They swarm to the shallows many generations ago the Chippewa living in this region discovered that if they held torches over the front of the fishes eyes reflected the Torchlight becoming red liquid Sparks making the walleye easy targets for a spear the Chippewa could land dozens of fish and one night outing at the sight of Chippewa fishing with flaming torches French explorers gave one like the poetic name lock the Flambeau Lake of the torch. For White Settlement Chippewa fished and hunted across the entire Northern third, Wisconsin Lake Superior Chippewa surrender, the land United States in the 1800s, but the trees they signed guaranteed them the right to continue hunting and fishing in the region over the years the principle of spearfishing hasn't changed, but the equipment is now distinctly 20th century. That's good right there. Moose Chippewa now use aluminum motor boats instead of birch bark canoes in place of the torch Spears wear with looks like an automobile headlight strapped to a helmet the spirit stands in the bottom of the well food court Spear and Jabs Walla is boat navigate to Shoreline. Bruno one baptism on a good night. You spear might get 40 or more fish. Bright April sun light filters through the pine and white birch trees along the shore of little st. Germain Lake near the town of Minocqua Wisconsin woodpeckers and red-winged blackbirds butter among the trees thousands of tourists come to the scenic lakes and woods of Northern Wisconsin each year, many of the visitors come to fish and the fish. Most of them want to catch is the walleye. And that is sad just to see the walleye being slaughtered. It's just just hurt you. They call their place Serenity Bay, but the ashes are upset. They say Chippewa spearfishing is ruining their like and their business when we first moved up here we can go out and start the charcoal fire. And we could go down there and catch a walleye size. And in the last 3-4 years it just dying away. Our grandchildren are going to have no fish to catch if this keeps up take care of the reservations and allowed him or ask us have they screwed your leg and that right away though. They they say they won't come then go to the Lakes where the Chippewa Spear and protest the issues are among three thousand people who belong to a group called stop treaty abuse, Wisconsin sta, organize demonstrations against Spearfish. The founder of State Crest owns a pizza shop in Minocqua and tonight like every night of the spear fishing season dozens of sta members gather at Chris's place an hour before Sunset retired couples young families with toddlers in clusters of teenage boys pack into the restaurant most are dressed like Hunters. They wear blaze orange caps and rain slickers heavy boobs and camouflage jackets last year. They carried homemade signs and were custom-made t-shirts with slogans like save a walleye Spirit pregnant Squaw the protesters called the spear phishers Timber wagon burners and half-breeds this year Dean Chris told stop treating abuse members to avoid overly racial statements. So now the t-shirts and signs say things like no more spearing and equal rights for all Americans being Chris says in past years reporters ignore the protesters environmental and legal concerns and focused on the racist slogans, there is no Reason to allow one group of American rights and privileges or the other group of Americans and Bastille. Should we want to portray without allowing the tribes the opportunity to hide behind the the veil of racism? Machine at Nokomis lake is typical the public boat landing is simply a clearing in the woods at the side of the lake with the paved ramp like a short driveway leading from the road to the water at the sun sets. The number of people at the boat landing Road a gray hair to Chippewa man stands near the water beating a ceremonial drum 100 police officers in riot gear got here early and stretched fencing and yellow plastic ribbon along the boat ramp separate the Chippewa on the ramp from the protesters surrounding the police stand inside. The barriers shoulder to shoulder facing the protesters hundreds of people are at the boat landing including a few dozen supporters of the spear phishers. Many of the supporters are from other places, Milwaukee Minneapolis, Chicago, they carry notebooks and cameras. They plan to gather evidence report just in case there's violence as Darkness Falls the police switch on banks of glaring lights in the boat landing itself the first boat and Spears pushes away from The Landing. It's noisy. 4 boats of Spears me the landing followed by two law enforcement boat on Shore half a dozen Chippewa singers and drummers perform a traditional song. During the song close to a hundred anti-steering protesters Gathering a tight ring around the singer's the protesters. Look angry some shake their fists summer drunk. Despite instructions from stop treaty abuse leaders not to yell racial slurs members of the crowd including sta organizers answer the Chippewa singers with a mocking chant of Hi. How are you at? The biggest protest dozens of reporters cone the crowd talking to in recording demonstrators some members of the crowd remain openly hostile toward the chip. Why even when they're interview but most people tone down the remarks when faced with a microphone how much stop dirty of Houston we don't want this to be ready. So we don't want this beer aged a lot doesn't make any difference who was a bunch of white people out here if we still be here, it's not racist at all. That's the matter of spearing. There's they're supported well enough by the government. They have their home is built and they have everything else done for him by the government. They certainly don't need this for subsistence. This is the 1990s. Judy's mermaid in 1800s I don't disagree if they want to have their treaty rights to Guardian a birch bark canoe with a an old torch and Spearfish. And take it there on a horse. And Sean and give up their welfare, and they're free housing. Then let him let him have all the fish that they can get out of a birch bark canoe with but not with the power boats in the and if I promise. It was just like a Devil's Fork to me. Aspira stay out on the water for more than two hours when they returned tribal and state biologist gather under the bright lights on the boat ramp to countway and examine every fish. The spirits caught this part of the evening ritual is often the most tense as protesters press against the police barriers to get a better look at the fish and to yell at the Chippewa. My buddy told her to have the police arrest 80 people this year most of them for peaceful acts of Civil Disobedience last year 200 people were arrested. There were fewer reports of a rock-throwing and other violence this year, but despite this year's smaller crowds spearfisher. Tom. Austin says there was hatred in the air at The Landings. We should have to fear the fact that maybe one of these your cooks are going to go off and I'll because they don't like any of people fishing in all that fear still in any people when they fish on the lake every time there's a spear that touches the water we see hate. Some biologists say there are fewer walleye in the lakes of Northern Wisconsin, but most say spearing isn't the problem University of Minnesota professor of fisheries management, George Spangler has testified in federal court as an expert on Chippewa spearfishing. He says the Chippewa took a 25,000 walleye this spring and sportfishers will catch 30 times as many during the spring and summer season nearly three-quarters of a million fish. The Indians are being blamed for this by the nun in in public, but the Indians are not responsible none Indian fishermen are responsible 19 News fishermen will have to expect that they will not be able to take as many fish as they have been taken in the recent past in cooperation with the state tribal conservation officers issue spear fishing permits one night at a time for a specific number of fish on a specific Lake State and tribal biologists determine how many fish the spirits can safely take from each leg. On a few likes the Chippewa take as many as half the entire Year's allowed catch a walleye the Chippewa do cut into the number of fish that are left for sport Anglers on some Lakes but George Spangler says the chip Harvest is so tightly controlled. It doesn't hurt the overall population of fish. Spangler says, it's no more damaging to spear a fish in April than it is to hook a fish in mid-summer. What is the difference between an animal killed during the open water? Safe season saved by an angler? In the middle of July and animal that would have spawned the following April. Headed survived. What's the difference between killing an animal in July and killing it the day before it spawned the following April? Simply no difference. It's one animal gone from this morning stock. Spearfisher Nick Hawkins cleans walleye in the back porch of his home on the lock the Flambeau reservation a few miles from Minocqua. Although there are six bands of Chippewa that spear walleye in Wisconsin lock the Flambeau catch a fish with a slender knife. Nick Hawkings definitely slices away one fillet of meat from each side of a fish's body and tosses the carcass into a paper bag with his practice hand it take stockings only one minute to clean eats fish in less than half an hour. He's cleaned all 22 walleye. He caught the night before protester say spearing is unfair because it's too efficient. It's not sporting. Well, it might take a hook and line fishing hours to land one while I spearfisher sometimes bring in more than 10 an hour, but Hawking says spearing is a harvest not a sport. Spearing Wellness very easy to spear walleye. This is a very efficient way of taking fish and we make no bones about the fact that we're going out to Achilles. Why life? The season's over will start all start time. giving them out and handing them out to family members were going to give some to the elders. Latimore be safe for ceremonies during the summer time. So and while I is A fish in general is one food that we can we don't really have to pay for. Not a real big expense the walleye are a welcome addition to the freezers of the people on the lock the Flambeau reservation, but the tribal members need more than fish many of the houses on the reservation are substandard Healthcare is often inaccessible and more than half. The residents are unemployed on the Main Street in downtown lock the Flambeau. The A&M Cafe is one of the few businesses that remain open and also a bingo hall at donut shop a post office and a hardware store owned by a white couple and used mostly by white people whose summer cottages happen to be on the reservation here at the cafe though. Nearly all the customer. Chippewa co-owner Rd. Buckholts is a Chippewa who's lived on the reservation most of her life. She says the cafe sells a lot of meals on credit. How much is the employee? Do you know? I'm basically I think because they feel comfortable in this restaurant, which is what my husband when he open this place up wanted it to be an Indian restaurant a place where we could go. Without people staring at us without getting any kind of adverse reactions or getting treated differently. People of Lac du Flambeau bleed spearfishing rights and other rights guaranteed by the trees provide a ticket to economic prosperity for the reservation tribal leaders thought they found a way to convert tree right into cash last year. They negotiated an agreement with a state Lac du Flambeau members would stop spearing walleye off the reservation for the next decade in return for 50 million dollars spearfishers lobbied against the agreement calling in a Cell out of Chippewa Heritage and tribal members voted it down tribal chair Michael Allen negotiated agreement and he says the people of lock the Flambeau made a mistake when they rejected it education money is the money still helper clinic for RVs for elders for youth. You look at the Reaganomics what it did to try of it now and we're struggling to to find money and stuff is so goddamn competitive. You know, it's it's you have to write a proposal to get front of him in when you when you do get find it. It's very minimal. Everybody's hurting for money has fewer than 10% of all members of Spearfish outside the reservation the catch works out to about eight fish for Tribal member. Allen says the tribal members who don't spear are sacrificing tangible improvements in reservation life. So the spear phishers can make a political point, but the spear phishers see differently, especially some of the young speakers. We're not living the American dream here like the flammable man. This here is the third world man twenty-five-year-old Wayne valliere is strongly opposed to any compromise on spearing he wants to make money by expanding the use of treaty rights value or says the Chippewa should fish hunt and harvest Timber outside the reservations we could take our Timber rights. Start a logging Mill, there's different sponsors throughout the country. I'm more than willing to come in and start these type of business start clean industry on the reservation become self-sufficient create jobs for people. This is something we don't want to handle from the government in early May of federal court judge affirm. The Chippewa tree right to hunt deer outside their reservations in Wisconsin, but the decision affects more than hunting the judge ruled that the chip while I have a right to half of all renewable natural resources in northern Wisconsin, some attorneys say the ruling applies to game Fish wild rice and Timber even before the decision one Chippewa Bandit started logging in state forests spearfishing in Wisconsin is a particularly dramatic conflict over treaty rights, but similar disputes are unfolding across the country as American Indian people try to reclaim land and resources that once belonged to their ancestors. Across Wisconsin western border in the pine forests of northern Minnesota. There are no Mass protests against spearfishing. There's been little or no spearing outside reservations, at least not until this year in Minnesota the three bands of Lake Superior Chippewa approved an agreement with the state like the one rejected it lock the Flambeau under the Minnesota agreement signed in 1988 the state pay the band total of 5 million dollars a year and the band members limited their spearfishing to the reservations the plan worked for a while, but the largest band The Fond du Lac near Duluth pulled out of the agreement last year Fond du Lac members continue to follow the guidelines in the agreement until this spring when to Residence when spearfishing off the reservation for lock me up. We're going to have to lock me up forever because I'm never going to quit chica greensky sit snack and dislodge on the Fond du Lac reservation smoking a ceremonial pipe with his friend Russell should buy a Greensky and should buy a square arrested earlier this year for illegally spearing fish on a public Lake greensky says, he didn't see any part of the Fond du Lac $2000000 annual payment from the state and most people of the Fond du Lac received no noticeable benefit from the agreement. What did we get out of it? I might be able to go out as a state doesn't shoot one buck. All right, that one Buck don't lasts over a month greensky. Insha, bias want their case transferred to federal court in hopes. It will set a precedent allowing the Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota to hunt fish and gather outside reservations. Do you want some soup? 20 miles away Fond du Lac tribal attorney Henry Buffalo lives in a comfortable Duluth neighborhood. Buffalo takes a break from the stack of legal briefs on the dining room table in his modern split-level house. Buffalo says greensky and shivaya are naive in their desire to use the treaties for subsistence hunting and fishing Buffalo says the treaty rights are most valuable as a legal and political bargaining chip. I've always believed turn down. When my great-great-grandfather be shaky signed that treaty along with all the other leaders of the Lake Superior bands that they Reserve those rights basically for the survival of the group. It seems to me only logical that if we were to Define survival right now that certainly these types of agreements and exchanges at Whitaker would still accomplish the basic rationale that these people must have had at the time that they signed the treaty survival in the management of resources. He says the state of Minnesota allows the Chippewa to be nothing more than edvisors. I said the Chippewa might have to take the state to court to ensure the tribes have an equal part in regulating fishing hunting and logging the Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources in Minnesota. Steve. Thorne says State officials are determined to avoid a conflict as messy as that in Wisconsin, or I certainly don't want to smuggle you say that it couldn't happen in Minnesota. I think without the hard work of a lot of Indian and non-indian citizens in Minnesota. It might have happened and if there's always a possibility that it might in the future, but I The chances are small court case is over treaty rights are still pending in both, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but law professor Charles Wilkinson of the University of Colorado. Best specialist in Indian Tree law says the Chippewa legal claims are solid you often hear the phrase the United States and gave this or gave that to the tribes. In fact, the Chippewa were the landowners the Chippewa had hunting and fishing rights unquestionably throughout the entire area that they controlled the Chippewa knew what they were doing on hunting and fishing rights when they negotiated these treaties they insisted that they be allowed to continue to hunt and fish and in the modern era the courts have upheld that Charles Wilkinson says since the courts will likely hold Chippewa rice to the resources of Northern Wisconsin and parts of northern Minnesota. The state governments would be smart to voluntarily share control of the resources in Washington state for example tribal. And state government share responsibility for fisheries management and Indians and non-indians divide the fish the tribal governments in northern Wisconsin are proposing a similar Arrangement, but the state isn't interested sociology Professor Alex at the University of wisconsin-lacrosse says some State officials won't cooperate with the Chippewa get it's believed Governor. Tommy Thompson wants the boat landing protest to continue. So Congress feels pressure to nullify the treaties get it says that's because the treaties may allow the Chippewa power to block Northern Wisconsin mining operations proposed by Exxon and other multinational companies. What is really going on is that there is a an underlying bedrock of racism in northern Wisconsin. It's always been there. It is simply been mobilized on around this issue of spear phishing, but one of these sort of a long-term objectives of the spear phishing opponents is the application of treaties and of course the primary beneficiaries of the application of Indian. These are precisely corporations like Exxon that have been awarded in their previous attempts to gain access to Indian Resources. And if one looks at this from a long historical perspective, we find a pattern in American history where once the dominant White Society has decided that they need Indian Resources. There is a wave of racist. It justifies the encroachment of white civilization on Indian culture. This is simply the latest example of white civilization encroaching on Indian cultures Peter with the tribes Jim Clouser who used to be a lobbyist for Exxon says get exclaims of collusion between State officials in mining companies are far-fetched Clouser says, the reason estate isn't sharing control of the resources with the Chippewa. Is that the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits it so we cannot is public officials in Wisconsin surrender to others or whether that be the Chippewa Nation. Or Exxon Corporation. We cannot surrender to anyone else all responsibility to the people of the state to manage and protect our natural resources. They cannot be peers and they cannot be equal having said that that does not mean we can't cooperate and work together, It's up to the federal government. But Federal lawmakers are reluctant to get involved Congress is considering a bill that would set up a federal agency to mediate disputes among tribal state and local government. The federal courts will hand down guidelines and formulas for dividing the resources some treaty law experts like Charles Wilkinson believe Wisconsin will end its dispute with a chip won the next two or three years by agreeing to share resources and Resource Management with the tribes the state and the tribes are making some compromises the lock the Flambeau say, they'll fish only large lakes next year leaving the walleye in small lakes entirely Sports Fishers. In the end it may be gestures like this that settled the conflict, but for now the tree right storm is far from calm. Turn up a little. It's a small percentage of the non-indian people in the Northwoods who protest at the boat Landings in a small percentage of Chippewa from Spearfish the majority of people Chippewa and white. Keep quiet about their opinion some members of The Quiet majority are meeting talking about joint tours and packages between Chippewa and non-indian communities and other ways that communities can cooperate but despite those discussion. It looks like next year will bring another season of protest spearfishing protest organizer Dean. Chris says the demonstrations will continue until the federal government eliminates what he calls the Indian special privilege in Walla. He says the smaller protest this year don't mean his cause is losing momentum. I don't see the tone is diminished any up here. I would say clearly the people feel the only way they have of sending a message to the state and federal government has to go to the Atlantic and then say we don't like what's going on. We want Federal intervention to clear this problem spearfisher Wayne valliere is just as adamant. He makes his declaration through clenched teeth. The spear phishers will return we're going to be out there again and again and again because rates are forever for as long as the rivers flow in the Grass Grows. Did the white man, never forget our ancestors blood never forget our ancestors sorrow their pain or anger and her fear Benny never forget that. It's time for us to sue their ancestors bones in the revivalist spirits American old that Indian people were not extinct or not extinct or not away from the face of the Earth. smile for the camera be proud. You're an Indian bastard. Spearing on lakes of fire was written and narrated by Chris Heflin and produced by Steven Smith reporting by Jim Newman of wcsd radio Duluth superior technical Direction by Alan Strickland and Bill Nicholson executive producer George Busey spearing on lakes of fire is a production of the regional issues unit at Minnesota Public Radio and was made possible by a grant from the Northwest area foundation.


Digitization made possible by the State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 2008.

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