The Walleye War: The Struggle for Ojibwe Spearfishing and Treaty Rights

Synopsis

For generations, the Ojibwe bands of northern Wisconsin have spearfished spawning walleyed pike in the springtime. The bands reserved hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on the lands that would become the northern third of Wisconsin in treaties signed with the federal government in 1837, 1842, and 1854. Those rights, however, would be ignored by the state of Wisconsin for more than a century. When a federal appeals court in 1983 upheld the bands' off-reservation rights, a deep and far-reaching conflict erupted between the Ojibwe bands and some of their non-Native neighbors.

Starting in the mid-1980s, protesters and supporters flocked to the boat landings of lakes being spearfished; Ojibwe spearfisher-men were threatened, stoned, and shot at. Peace and protest rallies, marches, and ceremonies galvanized and rocked the local communities and reservations, and individuals and organizations from across the country poured into northern Wisconsin to take sides in the spearfishing dispute.

From the front lines on lakes to tense, behind-the-scenes maneuvering on and off reservations, The Walleye War tells the riveting story of the spearfishing conflict, drawing on the experiences and perspectives of the members of the Lac du Flambeau reservation and an anthropologist who accompanied them on spearfishing expeditions. We learn of the historical roots and cultural significance of spearfishing and off-reservation treaty rights and we see why many modern Ojibwes and non-Natives view them in profoundly different ways. We also come to understand why the Flambeau tribal council and some tribal members disagreed with the spearfishermen and pursued a policy of negotiation with the state to lease the off-reservation treaty rights for fifty million dollars. Fought with rocks and metaphors, The Walleye War is the story of a Native people's struggle for dignity, identity, and self-preservation in the modern world.

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