WHEN FRENCH EXPLORERS ARRIVED in northern Wisconsin in the 17th century, they came across Chippewa Indians spearing fish from canoes at night. The Chippewa used torches to attract the fish, leading the voyagers to dub one village Lac du Flambeau ("Lake of the Torch"). When the Chippewa ceded land to the United States in the mid-1800s, they signed treaties retaining off-reservation harvesting rights for fish, deer, and timber.
But protests have arisen over the so-called "special treatment" the American Indians are being given. The protests took on a more ominous tone when The Milwaukee Sentinel revealed the formation of a death squad armed with land mines and hand grenades. Red Cliff Chippewa activist Walt Bresette, the target of dubious legal actions initiated by the state as the 1990 spearing season began, said, "The only Indians out there spearing fish are those who are willing to risk their lives."
Agriculturally poor northern Wisconsin has for decades been dependent on mining, logging, and tourism, all of which have been in decline in recent years. Instead of joining with the American Indians for job development and ecological protection, working-class white people have been turned against their natural allies. Says Bresette, "I think, in fact, we have more things in common with the anti-Indian people than we have with the state of Wisconsin."