Treaty Rights

In the aftermath of social changes generated by the Civil Rights movement in the United States, Native Americans were able to push more vigorously for redress of their grievances. One of the issues was the states’ violation of the treaty rights of Indians to hunt, fish and gather in the lands they ceded to the U. S. The federal government had not enforced their part of these treaty agreements. Tribes brought suit to reaffirm these rights: Lac Courte Orielles v. Voigt was only one such case. In the LCO v. Voigt case, the federal courts ruled in 1983 that the signatory tribes to the 1837 and 1842 treaties had never ceded the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.






Listen to an ojibwa fisherman talk about the struggle for fishing rights. Help


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Video Transcript



The state of Wisconsin petitioned the U. S. Supreme Court to review the 1983 Court of Appeals decision, but the court found no grounds to do so. After the 1983 ruling, five other Ojibwa bands in Wisconsin joined the lawsuit and proceeded with the case in the District Court to determine issues relating to regulation. In 1987 Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the tribes possess the authority to regulate their members and that effective tribal self-regulation precludes state regulation.

How did perspectives on “heritage” and its relationship to fishing rights differ between many Native and non-Native people?









While sporadic violence occurred against Indians attempting to fish, responsible parties representing the tribes and the states began to negotiate. In 1990 Judge Crabb ruled that the tribal allocation of treaty resources is a maximum of 50 percent of the resource available for harvest. In 1991 she issued an injunction barring protesters from being near the shores during spearing in northern Wisconsin. Today Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan Ojibwa bands negotiate annual fishing limits for Indian spear fishing and angling.




Subsequently, the tribes have been able to actively promote the improvement of fisheries and support environmental preservation generally, and they have cooperated with the states in a number of environmental projects.

How are tribes working to protect the environment?


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Tribal and state fisheries’ biologists use survey data to determine how many fish can be taken by tribes and sports fishermen without endangering fish populations. They set allowable catches for each lake. Tribes declare how many fish and which waters they will harvest, then the harvest is monitored and daily bag limits for sport anglers are announced. Tribes have developed their own hunting and fishing regulations on and off reservations and enforced them as tribal members take fish to feed their families, sell, and use in ceremonies. Through tribal and state cooperative effort, a system has been created that supports both tribal fishing rights and sports fishery, and tribes press the federal government for more stringent air and water quality standards that help maintain healthy fish for consumption by Indian and non-Indian populations alike.


Listen to George Meyer from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) Discuss the Effect of Court Rulings on Wildlife and the Environment.Help


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Fish rehabilitation projects are not merely about protecting fisheries. They play an important role in cultural revitalization. A good example is the case of sturgeon on the Menominee reservation.




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