Treaty Allowing Chippewa Indians to Spear Fish Causes Controversy

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NBC Nightly News
Maria Shriver/Jim Cummins
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Sport fisherman in Wisconsin are upset by the Chippewa Indian's practice of spear fishing.



"Treaty Allowing Chippewa Indians to Spear Fish Causes Controversy." Jim Cummins, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 6 May 1989. NBC Learn. Web. 11 January 2020.


Cummins, J. (Reporter), & Shriver, M. (Anchor). (1989, May 6). Treaty Allowing Chippewa Indians to Spear Fish Causes Controversy. [Television series episode]. NBC Nightly News. Retrieved from


"Treaty Allowing Chippewa Indians to Spear Fish Causes Controversy" NBC Nightly News, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/06/1989. Accessed Sat Jan 11 2020 from NBC Learn:


Treaty Allowing Chippewa Indians to Spear Fish Causes Controversy


Treaties from the 19th century allow the Chippewa Indians to go spear-fishing in northern Wisconsin off the reservation. This year, however, there’s a problem. Sports fishermen are complaining that the Indians are catching so many fish there’s not enough left for them. And there has been trouble. More now from NBC’s Jim Cummins.

JIM CUMMINS reporting:

Today marked the beginning of the hook-and-line, walleye fishing season in northern Wisconsin. But there were few fishermen and even fewer fish. For the past two weeks, Indians from the Chippewa tribes have been spear-fishing these waters, off the reservation, under a 150-year-old treaty. They have been catching thousands of walleyes, a fish that is prized by sportsmen. Sport fishermen are frustrated by the lack of fish, resort businesses are losing money because the sportsmen are staying away.

Mr. TOMMY ZINDA (Bait Shop Owner): Last night the business was down about half of what we normally get.

Unidentified Woman: I have a lot at stake here. We’ve been here 21 years, you know our lifetime savings is in this resort. These rights are being abused.

CUMMINS: There have been violent protests against the Indians. Last night more than a hundred people were arrested after they broke through police lines set up to protect the Chippewa fishermen. Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson says somebody’s going to get killed because this is much more than an economic dispute.

Mr. DAVE KORNELIUS (Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resource): It has to be racism. In my mind it’s a terrible thing but it’s a fact that northern Wisconsin is going to have to deal with.

CUMMINS: The Indians agree.

Unidentified Chippewa Man: They have such elegant sayings as “save the walleye, spear a pregnant squaw,” “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

CUMMINS: The Chippewas say spear fishing is an important part of Indian tradition, a ritual that was protected by treaty after the tribe agreed to give up its land to the U.S. government.

Unidentified Man: The question here is whether American is going to honor its treaty commitments to Indian nations here.

CUMMINS: Other states with similar disputes have agreed to buy out Indian fishing an hunting rights for millions of dollars. But so far most of the Chippewas here have refused such offers and plan to continue unrestricted spear fishing.

In the meantime, opponents of the Indian fishing rights plan to continue their protest while federal state and local police try to keep the two sides apart. Jim Cummins, NBC News, Vilas County, Wisconsin.