MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds Wisconsin residents of the protected tribal right to fish in certain Wisconsin waterways and the legal consequences they could face if they interfere with that right during the upcoming fishing season spring of the Ojibwe.
“The department has zero tolerance for harassment of tribal members exercising their treaty rights,” DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole said. “We fully support Ojibway sovereignty and treaty rights.”
Each tribal fishing season, tribesmen harvest using a variety of high yielding methods including spear and net. The DNR works with the Ojibwe tribes to enforce these tribal rights.
“Tribal members have the right to hunt, fish and gather in ceded territories,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said. “Any attempt to interfere with these rights is illegal and should be reported to local law enforcement and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).”
Part of the collaboration between MNR and the Ojibwe Tribes includes working together to establish a safe harvest limit for each golden and musky lake in the ceded territory. These safe harvest limits ensure that harvests of walleye and muskellunge do not negatively affect the fishery of each lake.
The spring tribal fish harvest generally begins in mid-to-late April and ends in May, or shortly after the ice melts. The season generally begins in the southern part of the ceded territory and moves north as the season progresses. Tribal harvesting is not a date regulated activity and hence there is no open or closed season.
There are 2,300 lakes larger than 25 acres in the ceded territory, including 919 walleye lakes and 623 musk lakes. Each year, members of the Ojibwe tribe fish a portion of these lakes outside the reservation boundaries during their spring harvest season. Tribal members rely on these lakes to preserve their cultural heritage and also act as a vital food source for their communities.
By March 15 each year, each tribe declares how many walleye and muskellunge they intend to harvest from each lake based on safe harvest limits. Harvesting begins shortly after the ice melts, with night fishing licenses issued by tribes to their members to harvest a specific number of fish, including walleye between 20 and 24 inches and additional walleye of any size. cut.
All fish caught are documented every night by a tribal clerk or guardian present at the boat landings. Once the declared harvest is reached in a given lake, no further permits are issued for that lake and the harvest ends. The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) provides daily reports to MNR for all off-reserve fish harvested by spear or net in ceded territory.
In the mid-1800s, the Lake Superior Ojibwe tribes ceded more than 22,000 square miles of tribal territory in northern Wisconsin, including all or parts of 30 counties through a series of treaties with the federal government. the United States.
When the Ojibwa ceded land to the federal government, they maintained their rights to hunt, fish, and harvest on reservation lands within the ceded territory. However, after Wisconsin became a state, state and local officials often assumed that statehood superseded Ojibwa treaty rights and regulated or prohibited off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering by members. tribal.
In 1983, a Federal Court decision reaffirmed that Ojibwa had the right to hunt, fish, and gather off reserve in the ceded territory, including the right to fish with spears and nets.
INTERFERING WITH TRIBAL RIGHTS
It is illegal to interfere or attempt to interfere with tribal members exercising their treaty rights, including the spring harvest of walleye. Prohibited conduct against any member of the tribe includes, but is not limited to, harassment, obstruction of access to lakes, reckless operation of watercraft, creation of dangerous wakes, threat of violence and perpetration of acts of violence.
“DNR is committed to ensuring that all tribal spring harvest seasons are safe and enjoyable,” Cole said. “The Ojibwa spring harvest, which includes spearfishing, is an integral and respected part of Wisconsin history. The DNR is actively engaged with tribal law enforcement officers to protect tribal rights not just for the coming season, but for generations to come.
These treaties and court rulings remain in effect today, ensuring that Ojibwa can continue to exercise their right to hunt, fish, and gather off-reserve in the ceded territories. To help regulate these activities, 11 Ojibway bands have formed the GLIFWC, which provides fully trained wardens who patrol ceded territory to ensure tribal members follow applicable tribal conservation laws. Violations are taken to tribal courts for prosecution. Ojibwa spearing and netting is carefully monitored and regulated by GLIFWC and Wisconsin DNR staff.
Anyone violating tribal rights could be charged under multiple Wisconsin statutes, fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to up to 9 months in jail. Additionally, any tribe member whose rights are violated can sue for civil damages and seek a restraining order.
WISCONSIN HATE CRIMES PROVISIONS
Wisconsin law includes hate crime sentencing enhancements for many crimes if they are committed, at least in part, based on a “belief or perception regarding race, religion, color, disability , sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry” of the victim. For example, where a hate crime sentencing enhancement applies to a crime, the maximum fine may be increased up to an additional $5,000 and the maximum jail term may be increased up to 5 years additional.
REPORT A TRIBAL RIGHTS VIOLATION
If you have witnessed or experienced a violation of tribal rights to hunt, fish and gather that is active and involves physical harassment or verbal threat of physical harm, immediately report it to local law enforcement by calling 911.
If the threat has passed, please contact local law enforcement on the non-emergency number. Call or text the DNR Tip confidential hotline at 1-800-TIP-WDNR as soon as possible to report the event.
The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) also recommends reporting any violations to maintain a record and provide appropriate follow-up. Call GLIFWC Enforcement at 715-685-2113 to document an incident.