Treaty Rights

by Tabitha Wolf
Former intern of Happy Tonics, Inc. Presenty a student at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Communityy College, Hayward, WI

During the film festival at the Lac Courte Oreilles Community college in Wisconsin we viewed a film on treaty rights. Before and after the film began we heard from tribal council members, members of the tribe, and other members of the community about this issue.

It is an ongoing fight for rights in the treaties that many people who are not Native American and many who are, do not know about. It is something that tribes across the United States continue to work towards to better their communities. Gaining the promises provided by the treaties would be a huge help to Native communities and reservations. Learning the legal aspects of these treaties is important to all tribal members and society as a whole.

Why is this you may ask? If you are not even a tribal member it is important to know so that you may better understand the world from a Native person’s standpoint. Before the lands, and hunting grounds of Natives peoples were secured and conquered by the government, the government promised to provide for the tribes to end warfare, and/or prevent it amongst other hardships. When a people’s lands and way of life are ruined a responsible government is required to provide for them and these treaties were allegedly a way to do so. If not for the treaties warfare and chaos would be ongoing occurrence. Without the treaties these problems would continue to occur and it is through these treaties that a peaceful solution was encouraged. But, the treaties were not kept, or changed without proper authority, and/or in some cases the tribal leaders or council were tricked into signing things that were not what they were promised. This is easy to do when the treaties are not in your language.

It still even happens today you need only to see the case of the Tribble brothers. Back in early March 1974, two Wisconsin game wardens busted Mike and Fred Tribble from Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation for illegally spear fishing through the ice on Chief Lake in the ceded territory of Wisconsin. Land and lakes that once belonged to the Ojibwe.

The Tribbles’ had taken a treaty history course from attorney Larry Leventhal at St. Scholastica College in Minnesota earlier that year; the Tribbles’ showed the wardens a copy of the 1837 Treaty. They were given citations any way. The Tribbles’ took their attorneys from the LCO tribe and argued in federal court that they had the right to hunt, fish, and gather in the territory ceded to the United States in treaties signed in 1837, 1842, and 1854. That territory included lands in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The tribe’s rights were eventually upheld by the federal court system in 1983 with the US Supreme Court affirming their rights in Mille Lacs v. Minnesota in 1999. Why did they even have to go through all of this? A treaty should have been viewed and upheld without question! If you see the happenings during the Voight decision you can see how the ignorance of others concerning treaty rights had a huge affect on the public.

Twenty-five years ago, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed that Chippewa Indian tribes retained off-reservation fishing and hunting rights in 1837 and 1842 treaties that ceded millions of acres of what is now the northern third of Wisconsin to the U.S. government. Why did it need to even be affirmed? A treaty is a treaty and should be upheld by the law, right? But still the government opted to appease the public by using a formula for sharing the fishery with hook-and-line anglers and by having the tribe annually request a total of walleyes to spear and that figure is used to set daily bag limits for anglers of two or three on those lakes. “The resumption of spear fishing prompted demonstrations by treaty-rights opponents at boat landings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The protests sometimes escalated into incidents of racial taunts and rock-throwing. No one was seriously hurt but tensions forced dozens of law enforcement officers to guard the lakes. The protests died down after the Lac du Flambeau band filed lawsuits in federal courts against several protest leaders, alleging the demonstrations were racially motivated and violated the Indians’ civil rights (Wisconsin State Journal).”

Through all of this tribal councils today continue their struggle for the truth and the fight for rights that they were given in these legal documents and tribes struggle to receive the  promises made to them by our government. Treaties are definitely an important issue that everyone whether Native or not should be interested in learning about.


LCO Environmental Film Festival – January 26, 2011

Lac Courte Oreilles James “Pipe” Mustache Auditorium
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College
Hayward, WI, USA
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Topic: Treaty Rights

10 am – Visit InformationBooths/Displays
10:15 – Opening Prayer
10:30 – Guest Speakers(s): Jim St. Arnold, GLIFWC, Fred and Mike Tribble (Invited), LCO Conservation
12 Noon – Potluck (please bring a dish to pass and your own plates/utensils)
1215 pm – Film: “Lighting the 7th Fire”
1:15 pm – Advocacy to Action! How do we make a difference in our community?

“This PBS documentary skillfully weaves together spear fishing treaty rights issues in Wisconsin, the Chippewa prophecy of the 7th Fire and profiles of some of the people helping to bring back the tradition of spear fishing. This video captures a highly significant historical transition and it is the first program in the United States that vividly documents contemporary racism toward Native Americains.” (48 inutes)