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The Walleye War

The Struggle for Ojibwe Spearfishing and Treaty Rights

Larry Nesper

Publication Year: 2002

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.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-vi

My brother Glen graduated from Ripon College with Nick Van Der Puy in 1975. By the late 1970s they had both come to live within a few miles of each other in Eagle River, Wisconsin, forty miles east of Lac...

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pp. 1-10

On October 25, 1989, the adult membership of the Lac du Flambeau band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians voted down tribal council Resolution 369 (89), a proposition that would have leased federally...

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1 Cultural Topography and Spearfishing

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pp. 11-28

The Highland Lake District of northern Wisconsin is underlain by a formerly mountainous region that has been worn down to a plain and has more lakes per square mile than almost anywhere else in the...

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2 Anishinaabe Culture

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pp. 29-42

The social and political conflict in the 1980s over the meaning of renewed Indian access to the living resources of the lands and lakes between their modern villages was accompanied by a cultural renaissance among western Ojibwe communities. This renewal and the ways...

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3 Hunting, Fishing, and ‘‘Violating’’

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pp. 43-64

For the Ojibwe bands of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, "leadership was based upon skill as a hunter and trapper, on maturity, wisdom, guidance, articulateness, and control of supernatural power" (Smith 1973:13, paraphrasing Rogers 1962:266). Successful...

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4 The War Begins

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pp. 65-106

Hunting and fishing conditions off the reservations for Indian people had been eroding for nearly a century before litigation in the 1970s altered the relationship between the Wisconsin Chippewa bands and...

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5 The War Within

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pp. 107-126

The year 1989 proved to be a watershed in the Walleye War. The conflict continued to intensify and broaden, as recounted in Chapter 6. As important, the spearfishing controversy drove further wedges into...

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6 Spearing in the Four Directions

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pp. 127-154

The 1989 spearing season unfolded accompanied by a complicated interplay between the leaders of two factions on the reservation at Lac du Flambeau, five other bands of Wisconsin Ojibwes who were also...

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7 Anishinaabe Summer

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pp. 155-182

Within days of the end of the 1989 season, the leaders of Wa-Swa-Gon Treaty Association were caught up in activities within and beyond the borders of Lac du Flambeau to gain more support for the treaty rights...

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8 The Referendum

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pp. 183-198

Ojibwe society is made up of kindreds whose extensions and alliances are constantly shifting,cont racting, and expanding (Smith 1974:9). People are related to each other in multiple ways,and kinship is typically...

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pp. 199-206

As among the Hopi (Geertz 1994), millenarian prophecy has a long history in the social thought of the Anishinaabeg. In the nineteenth century, historian William Whipple Warren noted an Ojibwe belief that the coming of the white race and the demise of the red had been...

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pp. 207-212

In the 1990 season, spearfishers were again hit by rocks andfired at with guns. Protesters began to use bullhorns, whistles, andsirens, creating a carnivalesque atmosphere at the boat landings. They chanted...


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pp. 213-220


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pp. 221-234


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pp. 235-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780803202290
E-ISBN-10: 0803202296

Page Count: 245
Illustrations: Illus., map
Publication Year: 2002