Spearfishing conflict has come a long way -- State Journal editorial from 30 years ago

Spearfishing conflict has come a long way -- State Journal editorial from 30 years ago


A woman wades into the water on May 4, 1989 to berate American Indians loading their boat into the water to spearfish at North Twin Lake in northern Wisconsin. The woman was arrested later by police.

This State Journal editorial ran on May 6, 1990:

The relatively peaceful spearfishing season in northern Wisconsin stands in bright and welcome contrast to the dark predictions of six months ago. Remember when the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa rejected a multimillion-dollar “lease-out” of their 19th century treaty rights to hunt, fish and cut timber? Many impassioned observers forecast blood on the boat landings. Even consistent voices of moderation were growing hoarse under the strain.

What happened between late October and the spring spearing season is a tribute to many hardworking people and a reaffirmation of what we knew (and hoped) from the start: Ultimately, Wisconsin is not run by extremists.

People on all sides of the treaty-rights issue started almost from scratch when the $50 million lease-out deal fell through. ... Misinformation about spearfishing — indeed, American Indian culture in general — was breeding fear and contempt among some whites. Militants from outside northern Wisconsin appeared to be the driving force in some Chippewa bands.

But time passed, and things changed for the better. People began to learn why the Chippewa were exercising their rights. There were rational discussions about the effect of spearing on fish populations. Northern chambers of commerce denounced acts of racism. The recall of Rep. James Holperin, D-Eagle River, failed convincingly. An aid package approved by the Legislature was a recognition that much of the tension in northern Wisconsin was purely economic. The State Journal’s four-month “Cultures in Conflict” series showed the treaty-rights dispute could be covered from broader perspectives, not just from the landings and the protest lines.

On the table now is a proposal to create a 16-member federal commission to study treaty issues, starting with an accurate inventory of natural resources. ... This could be a chance for a lasting settlement.

Anxiety is slowly giving way to cautious confidence in Wisconsin’s innate ability to solve its problems.

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