For the Ojibwe, spearing walleye is more than filling a quota. It is about providing for the community, and about maintaining a cultural connection.
For Jason Bisonette, who is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, spearing walleye is about being a provider, about sharing and providing for his community, about cultural ties and tradition, and about passing something important onto his son. It’s that important. It’s worth fighting the opposition.
“The actual ‘taking something’, whether it’s wild rice, or syrup, or a fish, or a deer, being able to take those things” says Bisonette, “being able to go out and harvest fish means that I can be a contributing member of the community.”
Once darkness falls and the headlamps are necessary, Bisonette and his son will be on the water until they achieve their fish limit. He sprinkles tobacco into the water and asks the spirits for safety. Then they scan the water for the reflection of a walleye’s eye.
“We fish for elders. We fish for single mothers. We always try to give as much as we can away,” he says. “There’s a lot of honor in that.”
In spite of untoward behavior from some people (bad things being said, getting rocks thrown at them), other people have expressed curiosity and support. Bisonette remains philosophical about it all.
As much as America has wanted the Ojibwe to assimilate – and the Ojibwe have assimilated – so too is there the other side of that. “The Ojibwe education is something we have to have to survive as Ojibwe,” Bisonette reflects. “Tasting that fish is part of that. Having that living history.”
“I spearfish because I’m Ojibwe. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.”
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