The Ojibwe Community


The Ojibwe community was always in consistent struggle with the state government of Wisconsin. The struggle was emanating from the violations of their rights in regard to gathering, hunting, and fishing. This was evident owing to the sign that read “Save a Fish, Spear an Indian” (Loew & Thannum 1). The northern part of Wisconsin where the boats used to land turned into a battlefield. Owing to these conflicts, the Ojibwe had to enter into an agreement with the federal government. However, in 1974, a lawsuit was carried out successfully against the state government of Wisconsin by the Ojibwes for continuously violating their rights for a whole century. Another raw emerged in 1985 when angry people attempted to stop tribal spearers from enjoying their rights. This research article will mainly focus on the history of Ojibwe in the northern plains. The information that will be used in this research emanates from different articles that have substantial information concerning Ojibwe in the 19th and 20th century.

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If the state government of Wisconsin had not violated the rights of the Ojibwe, conflicts would not have occurred between them in the first place. 


Ojibwe Treaty Rights

Given that most people read about the controversy through the television and the newspaper, this particular research paper will focus mainly on the boat landing challenges. The argument in this article is that the peace that currently exists is attributed to the public awareness that has increased in regard to rights and sovereignty. Wisconsin is at the moment being perceived from another perspective far from what was happening there a few decades ago. As far as boat landing is concerned, the whole process is being done in a peaceful and silent manner. The tourism industry that many expected to collapse due to insecurity has continued to flourish more than any other time. Surprisingly, the per capita income has continued to maximize and it is much more than that of the state. Gone are the days when treaty rights used to spark tension. Likewise, the Indian sovereignty does not spark any bad feelings that would cause panic. While the majority agrees that factors that fuelled racism are no longer there, some people still hold that the brutal demonstrations that brought violent continue to live among the people.

The struggles that have continued haunting the Ojibwe are found in some four treaties that were signed in the 19th century. In the four treaties, the community of Ojibwe surrendered big acres of land in the great lakes areas. According to historians during that period, it is estimated that the United States benefitted through getting timber that was over $170 billion. This came along with other minerals such as iron ore, and added benefits of things like rivers, and ports. The Ojibwe agreed to cede land in exchange for rights of hunting, gathering and fishing. However, the ceded land by the Ojibwes started bringing trouble after the states government in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan assumed power and they started to put pressure on all the occupants. They did not observe the rights as they had earlier on agreed with the Ojibwe descendants. In short, the treaty rights exercise turned into an industry of undercover activities.

Fishing Rights Denial

In the 1960s, a decision was made that would help to change the great lake into a fishery that would help the residents in a commercial way. The fishery was meant for the whole community and not just something for a few who were chosen. When the rights for fishing were issued in 1966, it came as a surprise for everybody when regulations were imposed to seclude some people from fishing there. The instructions prohibited the number of commercial fishermen who would go there to fish. In 1965, Keweenaw bay Ojibwe put behind bars for being in possession of trout that had been netted from the lake. However, the supreme court over ruled the decision after six years. Another case that the federal government wanted to prevent tribal fishing that was commercial was dealt a blow after it was ruled in the favor of the Ojibwe. However, although they managed to win such cases, the Ojibwe were meted a backlash of the anti-treaty. The tribal fishermen were met with a lot of hostility that ranged from rifle shots, blockage of their boats, and sand poured in their gas tanks. The situation was even bad because some members of vigilante walked around to scrutinize whether there were any tribal groups that were protesting in order to exercise their rights. One of the Ojibwe member said, “Sometimes they would find some of our guys, particularly the older guys that couldn’t run or hide well, [leading to] some sad stories. One of the older guys had a wooden leg. He was caught on the beach by the vigilantes, and they gave him a good roughing up, tore off his leg and threw it out into the water” (Loew & Thannum 3).

The complains that have there in regard to the vigilantes range from beating people, especially the old and sometimes throwing people in the water. They event went to an extent of taking photos of some guys who were fishing. These photos would be used later to make posters and bill boards that were later posted in specific places with wordings that those people were wanted dead or alive. The news in the television and the whole media fraternity was blamed for focusing mainly on the conflict rather than coming up with the solution that would help to solve the problem once and for all. The reporters within the mainstream struggled a lot to understand the concepts like tribal self-determination and treaty rights. When the case against the United States was ruled in the favor of the Ojibwes, it was all over on the headlines. According to analysts, this was a very big mistake. In the first place, the court did not allow the Ojibwe to enjoy treaty rights. It was the Ojibwe community that fought for their rights following the signing of the treaties with the government of the United States. In short, the court just helped to affirm the rights but they were not unlimited in any way. They were in line with the ceded boarders. Thirdly, the rights were not entitled to all Indians; they just involved the Ojibwe who signed the agreements in the 19th century.

The claims by media

The coverage of news in regard to the dispute of spear fishing was constituted in four major frames. In one part, the news retorted “Court Gives Unlimited Fishing Rights to Indians” (Loew & Thannum 4). Three out of the five were designed by the opponents of anti-treaty and another one by the supporters of the treaty. The frames that constituted the anti-treaty bore the following segments. The first one was that the Ojibwe would be allowed to have all the fish and develop an economic conflict for the whites who largely depended on tourism to get their daily bread. The second thing was that any spear fishing during the spring season would be very dangerous to the fishery. The third thing was that all the Ojibwes had been allowed by the federal government to spearfish. It therefore emerged that all the protests that would emerge were being fuelled by racism and not because of the fishing rights.

In 1983, the treaty rights of Chippewa were reaffirmed by the court of appeal. Around the same time, the rate of joblessness maximized in Wisconsin from 5% in the year 1980 to 12% three years down the line. When this happened, economic analysts observed that this negative effect on the economy would lead to a negative effect on the tourism sector in the northern side of Wisconsin. The deep recession also did not spare Wisconsin given that even cities like Chicago were equally affected. In the history of Wisconsin, it was known that they relied mainly on tourism and agriculture fro revenue. These sectors were not spared and they had to undergo restructuring way before the court of law had considered affirming treaty rights.

Economic transformation

An industry that deals with blue berry picking is one of the leading in Chippewa. Just like any other occupation that mainly relies on nature, it was seasonal. In other words, it was no exception with other firms such as farming, and lumbering among others. The industry of berrying was the only commercial thing that could fit the Ojibwe people in the 19th century. It is deduced that, “Ojibwe have relied on berries as a form of sustenance throughout their history” (Norrgard 18). It went hand in hand with the indigenous persons and it was in line with their identity (Norrgard 18). The people of Ojibwe have made berries their reliance for the longest time in history. Owing to the growth of the economy of the market, during the 19th century, the Ojibwe immersed themselves in the harvesting of the same as a form of employment and for sale purpose. The picking of berries also acted as a form of culture because it united families and communities because they would spend time together picking the berries. The history of how berries have been of great significance to the ojibwe has not been covered in length (Norrgard 18).

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Ojibwe experienced economic growth all because of the berry industry. This was mainly characterized by the agriculture mechanization that took place. The berrying history has remained to be spoken about anytime the Ojibwe come into the limelight. The economic changes that the Ojibwe experienced came prior to the treaties in the 19th century. For over two centuries, the Ojibwe involved themselves in business through trading in fur and changing such activities as hunting and gathering to improve their economy. Scholars have always been confused about how Ojibwe and other indigenous communities managed to develop economically (Norrgard 19). The Ojibwe are known for adapting the economic strategies that enabled them to sustain their indigenous identity.

Strategy of improving the economy 

While paying close attention on the berrying history, it is apparent that the Ojibwe adapted some strategies that would enable them to improve their economy in the 19th century. This cannot be interpreted to mean that they abandoned the subsistence way of improving their economy. It is a strategy that has been used by many Indian societies. The discovery of the commercial fishing company opened more opportunities for the economy to grow while at the same time subsistence fishing equally enabled the Ojibwe to keep away from dominating the market fully and to sustain the indigenous culture. “Ojibwe adapted their economic strategies to the many transitions they faced, transforming specific kinds of labor in a manner that would enable them to sustain their indigenous identity” (Norrgard 20). Likewise, as the economy of American market continued to become a significant source of interim income for the Ojibwe income. This was integrated with other finances from such places like fishing, mining, and lumbering. However, it must be noted that berrying is the same as gathering as provided for in the treaties. It is recognized as means of sustenance as well as a way of generating income. Although the two centuries were eras that a lot of change was experienced, the transitions cannot be excluded from the historical context.  By the middle of the 19th century, the Ojibwe had a lot of experience in regard to world markets and economic knowledge in regard to fur business.

Narration and oral tradition

When it comes to narrations and oral traditions, the Ojibwe are not very good at it. This was actually even confirmed by a tribal individual who observed that the Ojibwe oral traditions were mainly regulated by the Anishibabe people. The oral tradition of the Ojibwe people was given to them by their forefathers and they had also been given by their fore fathers. In the same vein, even teachers find themselves in a tight corner when they are trying to apply the oral traditions in teaching. In other words, passing of information using the oral traditions is not a simple task and it is not recommended especially in the Ojibwe community. However, Erdrich has attempted to apply the traditions of Ojibwe in his methods of teaching. Her strategy is though a demanding one because one is required to dig deeper in order to understand the information. The Ojibwe way of bringing up and naming of children is very different. In terms of western religion, they decided to reject it and this led to them being isolated (Erdrich 44).


Although the Ojibwe were in consistent struggle between them and the state government of Wisconsin, it is the fight for their treaty rights that saw their life change. The Ojibwe were compelling the state government into getting the rights for fishing, hunting, and gathering. Following the ruling by the court in their favor, the Ojibwe embarked on a long journey of transforming their economy. This was made possible through the gathering of berries besides other income generating activities. In terms of religion and oral tradition, the Ojibwe are known for borrowing the same from their forefathers who are also said to have also borrowed from their fore fathers.

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