Media, State response troubling,

August 1997
by Walt Bresette

Red Cliff Reservation, WI, August 27 -- Duluth's channel 3 news at 6 PM reported the federal court ruling in favor of the Chippewa. The report sent shivers down my spine. As Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again."

Channel 3 reported that the ruling would "allow the Chippewa to spear and net as many fish as they wanted."

I was a reporter on January 25, 1983, when the UPI reported that the LCO v. Voight Decision "would give the Chippewa unlimited hunting, fishing and gathering rights." Fourteen years of education, some filled with bitter violence against the Chippewa, has not made a wit of difference to Channel 3.I wonder what the other media are reporting?

The above reports are simply INCORRECT. The court found the state of Minnesota guilty of illegally preventing the Chippewa from exercising our reserved rights; and that the Chippewa will be able to have limited access to our resources without facing illegal arrests. But regional TV viewers will have gone to bed believing that the Chippewa were "given" "unlimited rights" by the federal courts. The ruling didn't give rights: it affirmed existing rights. The rights are limited and subject to intense regulation. Channel 3, and any other media that fails to understand and accurately report this ruling, should be held accountable and responsible for any violence the Chippewa may face in the future. For they have misled the public. Once again misunderstanding of Chippewa Treaty rights is perpetuated.

Channel 3 also reported that Minnesota will aggressively pursue yet another appeal. Fourteen years ago Wisconsin did exactly the same thing, and on October 3, 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. It was then, and is now, a waste of taxpayer's money and emotion for Minnesota to appeal.

No new facts have been uncovered since the last appeal. Like then, this bravado move by Minnesota will only serve to give false hope to those who seek to continue denying the Chippewa our legal rights.

Minnesota should call it quits and begin the process of public education that is needed to inform citizens (and evidently, the media) about this ruling. As long as the state and its leaders continue this fruitless fight they are signaling Minnesotans that the court is wrong. Here in Wisconsin, such signals led to violence and racist demonstrations against the Chippewa, years of conflict, millions in law enforcement expense, nation wide publicity, and ultimately a costly civil rights case against the anti-Indian groups.

If anything has been learned here in Wisconsin, it's that the state cannot win in the social and political arena what it has lost in the court. To try endangers the reputation of the entire state.

I call on all Minnesotans to reject the state's delay in accepting the ruling. I also call upon state and community leaders to host meetings to explain the rulings.

Failing this educational process, I call upon clergy and other peace makers to immediately convene an ad hoc panel to determine how peace and justice can prevail in Minnesota with Chippewa Treaty rights.

Walt Bresette is an award winning author and lecturer on Chippewa Treaties, and co-founder of the Witness for Non-violence. 715-799-5071


April 1997

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday issued an April 9 federal injunction until June on most Chippewa spearfishing and netting in the 1837 treaty-ceded territory of east-central Minnesota. The 11th-hour injunction - which exempts "ceremonial spearing" by the Mille Lacs Band - is based on an appeal brought by Mille Lacs Lake resort and property owners of the January District Court decision. It affects that lake and over two dozen others, and applies to the Fond du Lac Band and the six Wisconsin bands. The injunction is temporary until the full Appellate Court can meet in the summer to hear the appeal, which is based on tribal fishing methods during the spawning season - an issue that was settled long ago in Wisconsin-based federal courts.

Anti-treaty groups are warning their members that the injunction is only temporary, and can easily be lifted. "Disappointed" tribal officials have said they will abide by the injunction, while some individual tribal members have termed it an "abrogation" of treaty rights. Plans are going ahead for gillnetting and spearing in June, and the Minnesota Witness for Nonviolence is continuing its trainings. The "ceremonial spearing" would begin about when the current snow, flooding, and wind ends in Minnesota.

March 1997

Witness trainings are being held for the upcoming Chippewa spearing/netting season around Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. Witnesses have been requested to help out by the Lac du Flambeau and Mille Lacs Bands. A January federal court decision affirmed Chippewa treaty rights for the first time in the 1837 ceded territory of east- central Minnesota. The decision is opposed by a number of angler groups, who like in Wisconsin promise to protest during the fishing season.

The purpose of the Witness is to show that not all non-Indians oppose treaty rights, and to serve as a presence to deter, monitor, and document incidents of harassment or violence. [Numerous Witness trainings have been or will be held in Minneapolis, Duluth/Superior, Ashland, Eau Claire, and Madison, with well over 100 Witnesses trained so far.]

Why should we in Wisconsin witness in Minnesota? First, the 1837 Treaty was signed by the Lake Superior Chippewa bands before Wisconsin or Minnesota even existed--state boundaries are irrelevant in the treaty, and Bands from both states will be fishing. Second, many witnesses from Minnesota came to help here during the Wisconsin spearfishing dispute. Third, we have been requested to accompany spearers by Lac du Flambeau Chairman Tom Maulson and the reactivated Wa-Swa-Gon Treaty Association in Wisconsin, as well as by the Mille Lacs Band in Minnesota. They have asked for the reactivation of the witness network because they believe witnesses helped defuse the conflict at Wisconsin boat landings.

The Minnesota anti-treaty leaders Howard Hansen and Bud Grant, of Proper Economic Resources Management (PERM) have called for no violence or racism at the boat landings. However, PARR leader Larry Peterson said the same things in the early days in Wisconsin, causing a hardline faction to split off and form the militant Stop Treaty Abuse. Many of the same factors in Wisconsin are involved in Minnesota--a DNR that lowers angler fish limits and blames the Chippewa, a Governor who asks the tribes not to exercise their rights in order not to provoke trouble, and a media that sensationalizes the fish dispute and talks about the Chippewa having been "granted" rights by a federal court. The Witness is front-page news in the Twin Cities (see below), and has been also covered on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Like in Wisconsin, the fishing dispute in Minnesota--unless it is lessened--will distract attention from environmental threats to the common natural resources. While it is hard to watch a "rerun" of the 1987-92 Wisconsin troubles, we should pay attention and act in support. A weakening of treaty rights in Minnesota would in turn weaken the Wisconsin treaties that are now being used to protect the environment from mining.

The witnessing should be in mid or late April, possibly into early May, when the ice goes out on the huge Mille Lacs Lake and on the smaller lakes (about 1-2 hours straight north of the Twin Cities, which is four hours from Madison). The smaller lakes closer to the Twin Cities will open first. There are trainings going on in Minneapolis, Duluth, Madison, and Eau Claire (see the contacts below). The Witness needs video camcorders, cameras, tape recorders, and boats to gather documentation. If you cannot go, contributions can be sent to the Midwest Treaty Network, P.O. Box 14382, Madison WI 53714-4382 (make tax-deductible check to "MTN/PC Foundation").

Witnesses absolutely need to get training before going to Minnesota. (This includes people who have had civil disobedience training.) It may be a good idea for experienced witnesses to get a "refresher course" as well. Witnesses need to be completely self-sufficient in funds, supplies, and warm clothes--we do not want to put a burden on a reservation community. We will be staying in hotels, sharing rooms. As the article states below, this is a chance for us to help defuse the tense situation in Minnesota, just as treaty conflicts were defused on our side of the border.

'Witness' groups will be trained to help defuse violent protests
over Indian treaty rights--and to document any trouble

By Larry Oakes,
Minneapolis Star-Tribune,
Northern Minnesota Correspondent,
March 20, 1997, page B1.

If opponents of Indian spearfishing and netting show up to protest at east-central Minnesota boat landings next month, they may be on candid camera.

Across the state and in northern Wisconsin, supporters of Indian treaty rights are recruiting volunteer 'witnesses' who will be trained to endure verbal abuse, defuse violence is possible and document it if not.

"They're kind of a physical buffer between the spearers and those who might protest, and they document what goes on" with testimony and cameras, said Jim Northrup, a Minnesota Chippewa from the Fond du Lac Band.

He says he's been grateful for the presence of witnesses during his annual spearfishing outings. "They do it in a nonviolent way, and I know that some, as part of their training, swear at each other."

With such tactics as supplying government data on fish populations, talking protesters out of violence, and videotaping crimes, witnesses were a presence at treaty rights protests in northern Wisconsin during the late 1980s. Some say the 2,000 Witnesses for Non-Violence members are one reason the trouble eventually evaporated there.

"We bring in legal people to train them on the law, and we do some role-playing so they know what to expect," says Pat Eyrich of Minneapolis, co-coordinator of Minnesota Witness for Non-Violence. The group is reactivating in Minnesota after several years of relative peace at Wisconsin boat landings.

Eyrich, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Chippewa in Wisconsin, said four training sessions are scheduled in Minneapolis next month, with the first on April 4 at the Walker Community United Methodist Church, 3104 16th Ave. S. More training may be offered in Duluth and in Wisconsin.

"We're hoping they won't be needed, that non-Indian anglers will respect the court's decision and realize that we don't plan to deplete the resources," she said.

Walt Bresette, an activist and member of the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa in Wisconsin, said he formed Witness for Non-Violence in the late 1980s after hearing a former congressman speak about using witnesses to help document violence in Central America.

"I got up and said, 'If you can't go to Central America, come to northern Wisconsin,' where protests had started to escalate. Groups in Madison and Milwaukee immediately took up the call."

John LaForge of Luck, Wis., was an early member. "The witnesses went out in the hope of having a dialogue with the protesters and exposing them to the fact that the numbers of fish taken annually by spearing" is small in comparison to those taken by sport anglers, he said. "But it turned out to be impossible to have a dialogue, because a lot of the protesters were in a mood to yell and scream, and alcohol was involved."

So, LaForge said, over the course of two years the witnesses moved to a position of documenting and observing incidents. "We were pretty successful in defusing protests on this [west] side of the state."

Brian Pierson, a Milwaukee attorney who on behalf of Indians and the American Civil Liberties Union won a civil rights case against protesters, said he used testimony from a member of the witness group.

"I had some admiration for [witnesses'] wanting to be up there and make a statement by their presence, objecting to some of the racism that was very apparent at these landings," he said.

Kathy Anderson, of Duluth, acted as a witness in Wisconsin and said she will sign up again if protesters force the issue.

"We're talking about a century-old injustice, and I don't think it's ever too late to right that," she said. "The Indian people are a small group, so it's up to the rest of us to help out."


For more background on Chippewa treaty rights, contact:
Minnesota Witness for Nonviolence
Box 7588
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 722-6612

Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Nation
(Chairman Tom Maulson)
Box 67
Lac du Flambeau, WI 54538
(715) 588-3303

Wisconsin Greens
(Rick Whaley)
Box 16471
Milwaukee, WI 53216
(414) 466-6618

(37/55 Treaty Alliance)
HCR 3, Box 562-7
McGregor, MN 55760
Email: sandylake@juno.com

Ojibwe People for Justice
(Esther Nahgahnub)
PO Box 44
Sawyer, MN 55780
(218) 879-3487

Midwest Treaty Network,
South-Central Wisconsin office,
(Debi McNutt and Amy Lutzke)
P.O. Box 14382
Madison, WI 53714-4382
(608) 246-2256 (tel./fax)

Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
(Public Information Division)
PO Box 9
Odanah, WI 54861
(715) 682-6619
For a history of 1837 Chippewa treaty rights, see

Wa-Swa-Gon Treaty Association
(Michael Murphy)
Box 576
Lac du Flambeau, WI 54538
(715) 588-7070 (w), 588-3785 (h)

St. Croix Valley Greens
(Jeff Peterson)
750 Round Lake Road
Luck WI 54855
(715) 472-2728
Email: peterson@win.bright.net

Lake Superior Greens
(Elizabeth Post and Frank Koehn)
P.O. Box 3, Herbster, WI 54844
(715 ) 373-0478 or 774-3333
Email: fkoehn@win.bright.net

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