Treaty Rights Movement

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Nick Vander Puy:
Patty Loew.

Patty Loew:
Boozhoo.

Vander Puy:
Good to see you up north again.

Loew:
Mii-gwitch.

Vander Puy:
Your home territory.

Loew:
Yep.

Vander Puy:
It’s good being here.  It’s kind of a celebration, 25 years of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.  It’s old home week for a lot of us.  We’re old allies from the 80s.  How are you feeling?

Loew:
It feels great.  There’s such a wonderful energy in that room and just here on the reservation.  I mean, people are really pumped.

Vander Puy:
We were talking about the fruits of treaty rights.  You’ve studied them, you’ve lived them, you’ve exercised them, you’ve enjoyed them.  What are some of those fruits?

Loew:
I think there’s maybe three things that I think are really important. One is that the rights are preserved. My children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, etcetera, will have those rights, and this state recognizes that. I think that’s absolutely critical. The other thing is the education that came out of it. Act 31, outsiders, you know, mainstream Wisconsin school children now must learn about Ojibwa treaty rights, sovereignty, Wisconsin history. But I also think that we learned something about ourselves. If you’re going to put your life on the line, you know, for fish, you better know that maybe those treaties are something about—it’s about something more than fish. And I think what the whole treaty rights boatlanding struggle made a lot of us do was go back and reread those treaties, talk to our elders about what that meant. And I think what we’re seeing now, this sort of cultural renaissance—I hate to use a mainstream Western word like that—but this renewal, this cultural renewal that we see in artistic activities, in ceremonies, teaching stories. I think that’s a legacy of treaty rights. And then the final thing is I think the environmental awareness. The Crandon Mine, for example. Treaty rights was maybe the last thing that was separating us, protecting us, from having one of the largest sulfide mines in North America. And I think our legal strength really attracted a whole coalition of environmental groups and friends. We have friends now. People understand that if they have a serious desire for sustainability, and to really practice environmentalism, that the tribes are their allies. And so, you know, I think those are three really important legacies of the treaty rights struggle.

Vander Puy:
When we look at the wild rice lakes, maybe a third of those lakes are inaccessible in northern Wisconsin. The Bad River rice was a cancelled season two years ago. The fish are getting increasingly dicey to eat. With the new regime in Washington, with the concern about global warming and the changing climate, could treaty rights be used as a vehicle to defend the ceded territory against coal-fired electric plants?

Loew:
You know, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t answer that—I don’t even play one on TV—but I think that treaty rights also has a public relations value. I think that we can use treaty rights to educate people and as we saw once again in the Crandon Mines issue. It wasn’t suits that decided that issue, it wasn’t bureaucrats meeting at the state capital. It was a grassroots effort by real people that lived along the rivers, that were concerned about mining, concerned about the loss of quality of life. It was real people that banded together, and it was a bubbling up. I think that at its heart—at the essence—that’s at the essence of any political issue, is the will of the people. I want to believe that as a journalist. That the will of the people still rules. And so if we as Ojibwa people educate people about treaty rights and we explain that we have to protect our environment. Otherwise we’ll have no gathering rights to protect. I mean, it’ll be moot. And so, I think if we explain that and we’re able to build some consensus and we get that word out and we educate in a good way, that they can be. The next step, those legal steps, I’ll let the lawyers, and the suits, and the bureaucrats deal with that. But that’s a reasonable concept that people that communicate—those of us in the media, and those of us that have political platforms—that’s the kind of message that we can get out. And that’s the kind of message we have to get out.

Nick Vander Puy:
This is Nick Vander Puy and Patty Loew on the Bad River Reserve in northwestern Wisconsin for Indian Country TV.

Vander Puy:
Mii-gwitch.

Video courtesy of Indian Country TV, 2009
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xk1nwBvIhDw

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