Resist the Mine/Envision the Future: The Penokee Hills Education Summit – Part Two

Notes from the Summit: Treaty Rights as Key Paths to Protection

Penokee Hills Education Summit, Upson WI 9/21, 9/22

Penokee Hills Education Summit; Upson, WI 9/21, 9/22

My last post provided background to the First Annual Penokee Hills Education Summit held at Whitecap Ski Resort in Upson, WI on Friday, 9/21 and Saturday, 9/22. The summit focused on protecting the pristine Northern Wisconsin land and waters currently under dire threat from a Florida mining company poised to turn the area into what could be the largest open-pit iron mine in the world.

This post – Part 2 – considers aspects of the summit itself. I did not attend all of the sessions – this not a comprehensive review of the summit. I outline a few talks focused on historic treaty rights as a modern-day method for protecting the area, then offer background on individuals and groups protecting the Penokee Hills in a multitude of ways.

I invite you to send me notes and thoughts on other speakers and themes – and I’ll incorporate them into this post. We can create a collaborative text here.

-Paul DeMain: Managing editor and owner of News From Indian Country - an award-winning, bi-weekly newspaper and the oldest nationally distributed Native publication which is independent and not owned by a tribal government. Click here for NFIC stream of the summit events.

DeMain focused on centuries of indigenous occupation and stewardship as one possible path for the Ojibwe to pursue protection of the area’s pristine lands and water.

“The process has been stolen,” began DeMain about the current state of Wisconsin politics as well the considerable history of Native land grabs by government and mining interests. “We’ve been ripped off and it’s not the first time.”

Old Trails and Roads of Northern Wisconsin as of 1877

Old Trails and Roads of Northern Wisconsin as of 1877

DeMain referred the group to this 1877 map of old Indian trails which he says were used beginning nearly 2000 years ago. “We can track an Indigenous presence in the Penokees and Northern Wisconsin back to AD 260,” said DeMain.

When a 1854 Treaty established reservation lands for the Ojibwe, all Indians were not compelled to live within its boundaries. 240 individuals, many of whom were Metis (or multi-racial Indigenous and European) secured a total of 260 allotments which spanned to the crest of the Penokee Mountains.

Blue and Purple Boxes Denote Allotments Following the 1854 Treaty Establishing Ojibwe Reservations

Blue and Purple Boxes Denote Allotments Following the 1854 Treaty Establishing Ojibwe Reservations

DeMain said more research needs to be done, but noted it’s peculiar that the bulk of the 260 allotments ended up sitting directly atop the ridge of iron-ore now targeted by the Florida company GTAC for mining. He also noted that none of those allotments succeeds to a Native family today. He seemed to speculate that those allotments could have been systematically transferred from Native individuals to non-natives (or stolen, as this article states) who were working with one of the 240 mining companies operating in Northern Wisconsin during that era. “Is there a clouded title out there?” asked DeMain. The question could lead to a strategy to secure title to those allotments with the goal of protecting land and water from GTAC.

-Larry Nesper: Professor of Anthropology and Native American studies, author of The Walleye War: The Struggle for Ojibwe Spearfishing and Treaty Rights.

Nesper reminded us that in 1837 resident Ojibwe tribes ceded Northern Wisconsin to the federal government. This contract opened the land to white settlers and schools while Native bands received a twenty-year annuity of $9500 in cash, $19,000 in goods (blankets, rifles, and cooking utensils), $2000 worth of provisions, $3000 to establish and maintain three blacksmiths’ shops, and $500 worth of tobacco. Congress appropriated another $75,000 to pay debts the tribe owed to fur traders. A final treaty (the 1854 agreement) provision reserved the Ojibwe’s right to use the land for spiritual and subsistance needs, including the right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice on ceded lands.

The Ojibwe’s harvest rights were alternately ignored and witheld for nearly a century. This Indian Country document says:

The state even tried to regulate fishing on the Ojibwe reservations. In 1901, John Blackbird, an Ojibwe, was arrested for netting fish on the Bad River Reservation. Later, a federal court ruled that the state of Wisconsin did not have the right to regulate hunting and fishing on Ojibwe reservations, and Blackbird was released.

It took until 1983 before U.S. federal court finally determined that the Ojibwe retained harvest rights on the territory they ceded. This decision, called Voight decision, or LCO I led to the 1985 decision that the Ojibwe have the right to harvest even on private land.

Here’s a video about Ojibwe treaty rights:

Nesper points out that as contracts between sovereign nations , these treaties offer another potential entree to protect the Penokee Hills, Northern Wisconsin, and Lake Superior from mining devastation. The treaties, according to Nesper, must be interpreted from the perspective of the the Indian of the time: what did these agreement mean vis-a-vis the Ojibwe’s moral, spiritual and legal framework? Any ambiguities discovered in this contract must also be interpreted liberally in the favor of sovereign Indian people.

The following text is excerpted from a Minnesota History Magazine review of Nesper’s book, The Walleye War which delves deep into decades of struggle over Ojibwe treaty rights.

Larry Nesper’s The Walleye War attempts to show why
the Ojibwe held tenaciously to their treaty-based hunting
and fishing rights even when doing so was no longer an
economic necessity. Nesper examines the cultural roots of
the values expressed by the act of spearfishing walleyes in
the lakes of northern Wisconsin. He outlines and analyzes
nineteenth-century accounts to identify and define
ontological and cultural concepts by which Ojibwe people
understood their relationships with the animal world and
with one another. He examines how modern Ojibwe have
drawn upon these nineteenth-century concepts and symbols,
revising and updating them to mobilize people to exercise
treaty rights as a symbol of their tribal sovereignty

Nesper says if tribal treaties with the U.S. government preserved the Ojibwe’s extensive harvest rights over land and water, then no individual, state, or corporate entity can be permitted to destroy or even threaten that which brings the harvest. That includes mining companies from Florida.


Here are links to other valuable people and organizations involved in the fight for the Penokee Hills. Again, not a comprehensive list. Please send additions!

-Al Gedicks: Professor of Sociology at University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, author of Resource Rebels; Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Interests), long-time activist in environmental and Indigenous studies worldwide.

-Rebecca Kemble: Journalist for The Progressive newspaper/activist/specialist in worker-owned cooperatives. Her @rebeccakemble Twitter profile reads: “Chronicling the political coup d’etat in Wisconsin while building a more humane and just society through Worker Cooperatives.”

-“Penokee Pete” Rasmussen and Bill Heart run the Penokee Hills Education Project: Pete is a professional photographer. Bill is a retired small business owner and is former state Chairman of Trout Unlimited (WI). Heart continues to serve on the Great Lakes Committee of the National Leadership Council of Trout Unlimited.

United in Defense of the Water: a blog tracking news and information.

-Paulette Moore is a filmmaker, educator, and non-violent gadfly. Twitter: @storydoula

4 Comments on “Resist the Mine/Envision the Future: The Penokee Hills Education Summit – Part Two”

  1. […] Resist the Mine/Envision the Future: The Penokee Hills Education Summit – Part Two Whistleblower Protest Pics and Audio Interview with OHB Members […]

  2. […] Source Post Categories: News, Occupy MovementTags: ashland, bad river, education, environment, first-annual, from-the-summit, gaming, lac coutre oreilles, last-post, pristine, recognize what's broken, summit-focused, treaty-rights, walker […]

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