Walter Bresette: Treaty Rights and Sovereignty | Wisconsin Biographies
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Walter Bresette: Treaty Rights and Sovereignty | Wisconsin Biographies

February 16, 2020


[gentle acoustic guitar music] I want to begin
at the beginning, and I always draw a map of Wisconsin, and I keep getting worse each time that I do draw it. Here’s Duluth, here’s La Crosse. I’m from this little community up here, which is the Red Cliff Reservation. So I’m a Lake Superior Chippewa. My village has a government
to government relationship with the United
States called sovereignty. Laws etcetera need to take
into account this concept of sovereignty. And the treaties of
1837 and 1842 were basically deeds to real
estate transactions. You know, I’m sure there was a little more than that going on. We won’t debate that here. When that land was
sold to the United States, there were
easements on it. The easements was that we
would always have access to hunting, fishing, and gathering
of the resources of this land. So we sold the surface and the
United States says “Great.” Policies change,
some years they like Indians, some years they ignore them, some years they try and
get rid of them. So back in 1974, here on the
Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, there was a lake, but these young brothers said that perhaps that the state really never had authority to impose state game law against the Chippewa. They would remember the
old grandpa stories. “Grandpa told me that
his grandpa told him, “he was there when they signed those treaties. “And the treaties
are our license.” So what they did was
not unlike what Ghandi did, was not unlike what
Rosa Parks did. Was not unlike what anyone
else did when they kind of knew in their heart
that this law was not right. They went across the imaginary line here and began spearfishing and of course
they were arrested, cited for violating
state game laws. Well to make that story
shorter, in 1983, a three-judge panel in Chicago
said Grandpa was right, that these young Tribble brothers had indeed stumbled
onto lost rights. They said, “We think that the state has been given “no constitutional authority for them to impose “against the Chippewa,
who are the legal inheritors “of these easements.” However, when the court
ruled they said, “You know, it’s a long time
since 1837 and 1842, “so what we want you
people to do, “to go argue the scope
of these rights.” There is nothing in the treaties
which say that we must use the technology that existed
when the treaties were signed. so the Chippewa can do
anything in terms of methods that are available that doesn’t
threaten the resource. What was concluded was
that wherever any of these resources are harvested
by the general public, the Chippewa could harvest
their portion of these resources. Wherever anybody else can do it,
we can do it. And the tribal government understood for the first time, that this is a right. Lost rights. Rights that were never given up,
were never sold, were never taken away, but were just usurped by
might by the state of Wisconsin. [gentle acoustic guitar music]

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