A Legacy of Broken Promises

NOT LONG AGO THE WISCONSIN state motto was changed from "Escape to Wisconsin" to "You're Among Friends." To a member of one of the 11 Indian tribes there, however, these words have a peculiar ring. During the past few years, for example, the simple act of "Goin' fishin'" -- popular with many people and practiced by the Chippewa before non-Indians came to what is now Wisconsin -- has meant putting your life on the line.

Spearfishing stories dominate the Wisconsin media every spring. John Benson, a Chippewa spearer of walleye and muskie, puts his boat in to fish, like 10 generations of spearers before him. More than a thousand people are out this night yelling racial slurs at him. He feels the steel ball bearings shot from wrist rockets hitting him; he hopes that the really big rocks won't.

Benson manages to keep his balance as non-Indians in motorboats try to swamp his fishing craft. Others are dragging anchors through where he is fishing. He knows his family is on the shore, and he can hear people calling them "timber niggers."

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