Ojibwe Spearfishing Controversy

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Native American groups have been getting the short end of the stick since the European settlers first came over to the new world. This being said, the Ojibwe spearfishing controversy was nothing different. The Ojibwe tribe have called Wisconsin home since the 1600s. Living off of the land hunting, gathering, and fishing wherever and whenever they pleased. When the Federal Government came in realizing that they wanted the land that the Ojibwe's called their own, treaties were written up and an agreement was put in place. However, this agreement did not sit well with some Euro-American Wisconsinites, who didn't understand how much the Ojibwe tribe gave up in order to keep certain rights.


Once the Federal Government realized that it wouldn't be right to just take the land from the Ojibwe tribe without proper compensation, three treaties were written up and introduced to the tribe. Ojibwe tribes throughout Wisconsin signed three treaties with the federal government in which they ceded their tribal lands away. The ones they signed in 1837 and 1842 in return gave the Ojibwe's special permission to hunt and fish on those ceded lands. The significance of the treaty in 1854 in which the Ojibwe transferred the last of the Ojibwe lands in Minnesota to the federal government was that the tribe was aloud to establish reservations in Wisconsin, allowing the tribe to maintain their population and culture throughout the state.. However as the years past even after all of these treaties were signed and as the years past, the state still thought that they could regulate on how the tribe hunted and fished on their own lands.

Early Impacts

Once the Ojibwe tribes were settled on their reservations, a few major problems began arising. For example in 1901 a man by the name of John Blackbird, an Ojibwe, was arrested for fishing on a Ojibwe reservation, even though he was following the rules that were written out in one of the earlier treaties. The outcome of this was that the state had no right to regulate that because he was fishing on tribal lands that had been signed away to the federal government. However a few years later in 1908, the Wisconsin supreme court ignored this in the case State vs. Morrin where the court decided that Wisconsin had the right to regulate both hunting and fishing laws both on and off of the reservations due to Wisconsin's entrance into the union. This outraged the tribe due to the fact that they had signed those treaties many years before strictly giving them permission to perform these acts. So in 1933 and 1940 Thomas L. St. Germaine an Ojibwe lawyer argued before the supreme court that the Ojibwe's had the right to hunt and fish. The final outcome, the Ojibwe's could hunt and fish only on their reservations but not on land that had been sold to whites. This remained like this up until 1983 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago stated that Wisconsin had no rights to regulate fishing or hunting on reservations anymore, and that they could hunt and fish off of their reservations without having to follow state rules due to the treaties signed back in 1837 and 1842. This became known as the "Voight Decision". In following years the federal court gave the tribes harvesting limits that were to be enforced by the states. However whites were so astonished on how the government could allow spear fishing and such not fully grasping the treaty that had been signed many years before.


Protests began sprouting up when whites who did not recognize the treaty rights claimed that the Ojibwe were getting unfair benefits. Protesters would group up at boat launches and start to throw rocks and other items at the native fisherman. Protests even got to the point where whites would try to capsize the fisherman boats and in extreme cases, some natives were being shot at. Two major groups that protested the Ojibwe rights were the STA (Stop Treaty Right Abuse) and the PARR (Protect American Rights and Resources). Both groups arguing that the Ojibwe tribe was doing more harm to the environment and saw it as unfair.


When whites first started protesting, one of their main arguments was that these laws were not helping to promote conservation. However the facts state that Ojibwe fisherman take less fish out of the waters then sport fisherman. In 1987 Ojibwe fisherman took 21,321 walleye where sport fisherman took 839,000 walleye thus putting this argument to rest.


The state and Ojibwe are working side by side to protect our fish and animals. Protests have mellowed way down and the Ojibwe's have finally been given what they promised. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission was also created to help ensure the rights of the eleven Ojibwe tribes throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It strives to promote the hunting, fishing, and gathering freedoms that were set in stone in the original three treaties.



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