Part of the mission of Big Spirit Inc. is to promote culture and build awareness of American Indians and tribal entities. Big Spirit joins in recognizing Treaty Day in January. For those unfamiliar about this day or its significance, this American Indian-owned and operated marketing firm would like to shine a light on the day.
Some History for Background
The federal government made two major land cession treaties with the Ojibwe. The first was in 1837, when the Ojibwe sold most of their land in north-central Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. The next was finalized in 1842, and the Ojibwe ceded their remaining lands in Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula.
In the 1840s, the U.S. wanted the Ojibwe out of northern Wisconsin, but the Ojibwe didn’t want to leave. In 1849, Ojibwe chiefs went to Washington, asking President Zachary Taylor to let them stay. They explained they signed the 1842 treaty thinking they could stay on their given lands, but Taylor didn’t listen.
When Millard Fillmore became president on Taylor’s death in 1850, another Ojibwe group went to Washington in 1852. Fillmore was more open to them and agreed to make a new treaty in 1854. In this treaty, the Ojibwe gave up the last of their land in Minnesota to the U.S. and got reservations of land in return.
Over time, the Ojibwe were more and more restricted by the government on when and where they could hunt and fish. The rights agreed upon in treaties were ignored after Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota became states and started controlling their natural resources. These rules were forced on tribal members, and if they used their rights, they were often punished with citations, court appearances, fines, and losing their gear for fishing or hunting without a state permit.
The Voigt Decision
On January 25, 1983, a three-judge panel rendered its ruling that in the 1854 treaty did not end Ojibwe rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the territory they ceded. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit agreed with the Lake Superior Ojibwe that hunting, fishing, and gathering rights were reserved and protected in a series of treaties between the Ojibwe and the United States government. This is known as the Voigt Decision, or LCO I.
The state of Wisconsin then tried to stop the Ojibwe from hunting and fishing on private lands within their ceded territory, but the Seventh Circuit Court returned with a ruling in 1985 (called LCO II) affirming Ojibwe rights to hunt and fish anywhere within their ceded territories, even on privately owned land.
Over the Years
In the years following, there were six more rulings covering safe harvesting of fish and animals, as well as more regulations of resources harvested.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, many non-Indians in northern Wisconsin were upset about Ojibwe treaty rights. Some thought the courts gave these rights, but they were actually rights the Ojibwe had from the start and kept during treaty talks.
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission works with Wisconsin to control treaty resources and ensure conservation. Bag limits for fish and deer for non-Indians haven’t changed much, and Ojibwe fishing and hunting haven’t hurt tourism. Also, the six Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin have fish hatcheries and put more fish in lakes than they take out each year.
To this day the Ojibwe are allowed to fish, hunt, and gather on private land within the ceded territory thanks to The Voigt Decision. And this is what Treaty Day is about.