Non-Native Fires Gun at Tribal Harvesters on Lac du Flambeau Reservation

Published May 25, 2019

Special to Native News Online

LAC DU FLAMBEAU INDIAN RESERVATION — On Tuesday, May 7th, Tyler Chapman and T. J. Maulson were harvesting on Gunlock Lake with Mr. Chapman’s 13-year-old daughter, when an individual fired gunshots at the Tribal Members exercising their Treaty rights. The suspect in the shooting is a Non-Tribal resident whose home is on the lake.

Mr. Chapman and Mr. Maulson reported the incident to the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police, who investigated the incident and obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s home. On Tuesday, May 14th, Lac du Flambeau Police arrested the suspect and transported him to the Vilas County Jail.

The Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police and Council Members are in contact with the Vilas County District Attorney, and working vigorously to see that justice is served.

“The safety of Tribal Members, and the continued ability to exercise Treaty rights without interference, remains a priority for the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council. All measures will be explored to ensure that the suspect will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Tribal Council believes that the suspect is a clear danger and represents a safety threat to all Lac du Flambeau residents,” Tribal President Joseph Wildcat, Sr., said.

This incident is just one of several, and the most severe, of this spearing season. Tribal Members have reported being harassed, with a barrage of racial slurs and death threats directed at harvesters as they exercised their Treaty rights in the Ceded Territory. These incidents call to mind the prejudice and hatred that permeated throughout Northern Wisconsin during a time commonly known as the “Spearing Wars” or “Walleye Wars.”

According to the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Spearing Controversy” website: “Causes of this violence go back more than a century. Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin signed three major treaties with the United States in which they ceded their lands to the federal government. The first was signed in 1837 and the second in 1842. These transferred the entire Ojibwe homeland in Wisconsin to the federal government. In these treaties, the Ojibwe retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice and maple sap on lands they ceded to the United States.

Treaty rights were threatened and besieged until 1983, when the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago asserted that Wisconsin had no rights to regulate fishing on Ojibwe reservations and, more importantly, that the 1837 and 1842 treaties guaranteed Ojibwe rights to hunt and fish off their reservations without being bound by state regulations. This decision, commonly called the Voigt Decision, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court that same year.”

And yet, 36 years later, Tribal Members are still facing racial slurs and life-threatening situations.

What’s deeply troubling with the malefaction on Gunlock Lake is the clear signs that this is a hate crime. The Lac du Flambeau resident is aware he lives within the boundaries of the Reservation, and still shot at Tribal Members exercising their Treaty rights – rights that have been recognized by the federal government and federal courts.

Treaty rights are not “special” rights. Tribes sold their lands to the United States through several treaties in the 1800’s, but they did not sell or abandon their usufructuary rights to hunt, fish and gather on their ceded lands.

Common myths still perpetuated by uninformed opponents of spearing is that Native Americans are depleting the fish population and that fish caught are then wasted.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “All fish that are taken are documented each night with a Tribal clerk or warden present at each boat landing used in a given lake. Once the declared harvest is reached in a given lake, no more permits are issued for that lake and spearfishing ceases.”

Photo by Carri Lyn Chapman

Treaty fisheries are one of the most regulated systems that exist. The latest figures available from the DNR show that in 2017, the six Wisconsin Ojibwe Tribes in the Ceded Territory harvested 40,251 fish, the majority of which were walleye. In the same year, the statewide total was an estimated harvest of 181,288. The DNR estimates the total harvest, because recreational anglers are not held to the stringent regulations enacted for harvesting. Based on these figures, Ojibwe Tribes harvested 22% of the overall (estimated) total.

These and other facts couldn’t dissuade the resident on Gunlock Lake from believing he had the right to shoot at individuals exercising their Treaty rights. This hate-filled action could have resulted in a horrific tragedy.

Eric Chapman recently shared the significance of spearing in the video shown below. History shows that the Tribe has inhabited the Lac du Flambeau area since at least 1745, when Chief Keeshkemun led ancestors to the area. The community acquired the name Lac du Flambeau from the gathering practice of harvesting fish at night by torchlight. The name Lac du Flambeau, or Lake of the Torches, refers to this practice and was given to the Tribe by the French traders and trappers who visited the area.


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