Hunting and Fishing

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I think hunting and fishing connote recreation for most American people. I think hunting and fishing are fundamentally different for Ojibwa people, indigenous people of northern Wisconsin. To understand this, I think we have to look at the whole universe, the whole cosmology, the world view. I think that people would say or would agree with the idea that the world is really full of spirits and some of those spirits are bodies, some of those bodies are human and some of those are non-human. So the relationship between humans and non-humans is one of exchange and one of reciprocity, so that people feel themselves to be actively a part of creation in the practice of hunting and fishing, amongst the Ojibwa people. And I think that kind of thinking is quite alien to the way Americans think about this. A normal Judeo-Christian view of the world does not view animals, plants, fish as persons. And I think that’s characteristic of Ojibwa view of the world, so that the hunting and the fishing means being in relationship with non-human persons in a very profound, important, and valuable way. It’s also important then to share the bodies of these animals as food with relatives and at the same time make human relationships with each other as people are making relationships with animals and plants and such. How you come to understand something like this, it takes a while. I think one of the characteristic methods that anthropologists use is participant observation, and that means spending a lot of time with the people who you are studying, doing what they like to do, talking about what they like to talk about, not so much, or at least not initially, asking questions the way in which a journalist might or perhaps other social scientists might. And spending a lot of time with Ojibwa people, watching the way in which they hunt, watching the way in which they fish, fishing with them, hunting with them, listening to them talk spontaneously about animals, about places that they go, all of which I think contribute to an understanding of this. But I think the key for anthropologists and ethnographers is that we spend time with people and we enjoy their presence typically and like being with them doing the things that they like to do.

One of the things that an ethnographer does is write a lot. We spend time with each other, with the people that we’re working with, we do the things they like to do, we talk about the things they like to do, and when we’re not with them, we write. And we write our field notes, and this is an attempt to represent what it is that we’ve been doing and just to capture, to attempt to capture, to get down on paper the things that people said, what we thought about what people said, ideas about what we would like to pursue in the future either in conversation or an activity that we would like to do. But that’s an important part, I think, of what we do. This then produces what are called field notes. Field notes are something that we return to regularly, mostly because when we’re writing we don’t necessarily understand the significance of what we’re writing while we’re writing it. Because our understanding of what’s going on evolves over a period of time, so we sometimes have actually been told something that we don’t understand but subsequently we come to understand and can reflect upon that and reflect upon its significance at a later date.

I’m Larry Nesper. I’m an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Anthropology and American Indian Studies. I wrote my dissertation on the Ojibwa spearfishing conflict that took place in the 1980s and took my degree at the University of Chicago in 1994. My research is largely in the area of legal and political development among the tribes of the western Great Lakes. I have had the opportunity to work for the tribes in a number of capacities since doing this work. I have written for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is the inter-tribal regulatory agency that manages and facilitates the harvest of, the undertaking of the treaty rights throughout the ceded territory of Wisconsin. They have an interest in those lands because they have rights to hunt, fish, and gather on those lands and when developments are proposed, like a copper mine, for example, or some other activity that would have implications for the land, I have been asked to write as a consultant and do evaluations of these activities to study the nature of the land use and the potential for the implications of a development project for those resources that are used by Indian people.

Production credits:

Executive Producer, Loretta Fowler
Assistant Producer, Brian Mornar
Production by Mike Media Group

Photo credits:

Lac du Flambeau landscape – photo courtesy of Richardsonpilot
Deer – photo courtesy of USDA/Scott Bauer
Bear – photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons (Hbarrison)
Goose – photo courtesy of Wikipedia (Alan D. Watson)
Muskrat – photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fish – photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Eric Engbretson
Man in boat with fish – photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum
Spearfishing – photo courtesy of Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

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