Minneapolis Star-Tribune protector
of water, air, earth
March 5, 1999
Lucy Y. Her
Walter Bresette was a champion of American Indian treaties and an environmental activist who led campaigns for land, air and water quality around Lake Superior.
For three decades, he fought government, courts and big companies. He said in recent years that he opposed anyone who wanted to take away what belonged to the Lake Superior Chippewa: land, fish, heritage, culture and religion.
Bresette, of Bayfield, Wis., belonged to the Red Cliff Band. He died Feb. 21, apparently of a heart attack. He was 51. Since his death, a fire has been burning in front of his house to honor his memory.
"He loved Lake Superior," said his friend Susan Stanich of Kauai, Hawaii. "This was a man who was in favor of peace and nonviolence. There was absolutely no racist bone in his body."
During the funeral last week, Esther Nahgahnub, a friend, looked at the people around her and said that she wouldn't have known anyone there if not for Bresette.
"Everybody there had a piece of Walter inside them," she said. "The grief was so intense."
A Web site has been created to collect stories about Bresette for a book and CD to carry on his message and to celebrate him, said his friend Mike Hazard of St. Paul. The site is http://www.protecttheearth.com
Jim Northrup of the Fond du Lac band near Duluth said he and Bresette became friends in the 1980s when they worked together to protect Indian treaties.
"Walter was a trickster," he said. "He could take the most serious situation we were facing and make a joke out of it. But because of Walter's actions and ideas, the next generation of Anishinaabeg will have at least four Walts to do what he was doing. He's gone, but his ideas will live on."
In 1991, Bresette and Nahgahnub went on trial for apparently violating federal regulations for selling -- in Bresette's Duluth store -- dream catchers made of wood, sinew, sweet grass and feathers from Canada geese, blue geese and red-tailed hawks.
But Bresette said then that he was protected by treaties dating to 1825 that gave him and other tribes the right to gather and use the feathers. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson agreed.
"I had no doubt what I was doing was legal," Bresette said then.
Hazard said Bresette was a man of vision.
In Bresette's front yard sits a 50-foot-long boat he was going to turn into a classroom for children. It was going to be used to navigate the water and teach children about the air, water and sunlight, and how to protect them.
Bresette called it a homeless ship that "has killed its share of fish and broken many hearts and homes," Hazard said.
Nahgahnub, a member of the Fond du Lac Band, said, "Yes, Walter left a big hole, but look at all of us who are left that will fill the hole."
Bresette is survived by sons Nicholas of Peoria, Ill., and Robin of Madison, Wis.; daughters Claudia and Katy, both of Madison, and brothers Stanley and Joseph of the Red Cliff Reservation in Wisconsin; James of Wausau, Wis.; Dennis of Ashland, Wis.; Randolph of Bayfield, and Richard LaFernier of Warrensburg, Mo.
Bresette fought for Indian causes
By Eldon Knoche
of the Journal Sentinel staff
February 23, 1999
Walter Bresette, a widely known Chippewa activist, died of a heart attack Sunday while friends in Duluth, Minn. He was 51.
Bresette, who lived on the Red Cliff Ojibwe Reservation north of Bayfield, made his living speaking and writing about American Indian causes.
"Although he was never elected to a leadership position, he was undeniably a true leader," said a friend, Eric Schubring, producer of the morning program on radio station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation.
Bresette co-authored "Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance Against Racism and for the Earth," a chronicle of Chippewa sovereignty and the dispute over Indian fishing and hunting rights in northern Wisconsin.
He led a 1996 blockade in Ashland County against a train carrying sulfuric acid to the White Pine copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The acid was to be used to test a new mining process. For a time, 10 rail cars of the acid were stopped from crossing property of the Bad River Chippewa tribe. The mine eventually was closed.
"Walt had a great gift for understanding and articulating. (He had) insight into the struggles of native people in this region and nationally," said Schubring, who met him in the early 1980s when Bresette was WOJB news director.
Bresette was with Sandy Lyon in Anishinabe Niijii, or Chippewa Friend, a treaty-rights support group and anti-metallic sulfuric mining organization in Springbrook, near Hayward.
Born July 4, 1947, in Hayward to Henry and Blanche Bresette, he attended the Chicago Art Institute school in the 1970s, Lyon said. He also spent four years in the U.S. Army, much of that time in Japan.
As chairman of the Indigenous Issues Subcommittee of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he was a co-founder of the Midwest Treaty Network and Witness for Nonviolence, and during the past year helped develop the Great Lakes Regional Indigenous Environmental Network.
He often spoke out on treaty rights and argued against American Indians selling their rights.
For some years he and his former wife, Cass Joy, operated the Buffalo Bay Trading Co., a native crafts and art business on the Red Cliff Reservation. Bresette would say, "Sell trinkets not treaties."
At a meeting in Tampa, Fla., in the 1980s, he was given a war club. The club had belonged to the Sauk Chief Black Hawk, who a century and a half earlier had fought a spirited but losing war in Wisconsin against the U.S. Army.
Bresette carried the symbolic club with him to the spearfishing boat landings, where he organized peace vigils.
Twice divorced, he is survived by four children, Claudia, Katy and Robin, all of Madison, and Nicholas of Peoria, Ill.; and by six brothers, Stanley and Joseph of Red Cliff, James of Wausau, Dennis of Ashland, Randolph of Bayfield and Richard LaFernier Jr. of Warrensburg, Mo.
Bresette praised as peacemaker
Anishinabe activist Walt Bresette dies
Death of Walt Bresette
Condolences & Remembrances
Walt Bresette on the 7th Generation Initiative
Walleye Warriors: The Chippewa Treaty Rights Story by Rick Whaley and Walt Bresette
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