Published April 24, 2017
By Carri Chapman, Kim Swisher Communications.
LAC DU FLAMBEAU INDIAN RESERVATION – Every spring, when the ice comes off the lakes, Ojibwe Tribes begin their tradition of walleye spearing. This method of harvesting fish including walleye and muskellunge is an annual custom for Ojibwe families to obtain food for their families and to keep the community’s traditions alive.
Another tradition is the behind the scenes work that goes on during the season. While some Tribal Members are busy exercising their treaty rights out on the lakes, other Tribal Members or Descendants are working at the boat landings, night after night, sometimes until the sunrise. In late winter, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) begin their quest to hire creel workers who will assist Tribal and State wardens in their efforts to enforce the regulations in place during harvest time.
For some families, including the late Stan Haling’s daughters, creel clerking has become a family tradition. Chrissy Haling Zortman, one of Stan’s daughters, has been working at the boat landings for close to 20 years. Chrissy’s sister, Lisa Schuman, has been working creel for 11 years, and three of Lisa’s children have been working for about five years. Stan, Chrissy and Lisa’s father, became quite a legend during his more than 13 years working the landings during spring spearing. He would often be found telling jokes to everyone working at the landings or to those heading out on the lakes. He is remembered not only for his sense of humor, but also because he loved talking with everyone and everyone loved talking with him.
“He would always call to check on us and the grandkids to make sure we made it to our landings,” Lisa Schuman said. “If our boats showed up, he always made us call him when we were done for the night. He would also pull pranks on the wardens.”
Tribal members are required to show their Tribal I.D. every night to creel teams before setting off on to the lake. Spearing teams are also required to provide a cell phone number in the event of dangerous weather or if a boat gets lost on one of the larger lakes or flowages. They are given a permit that determines the amount of walleye or musky they are allowed to harvest. When they return, each boat has their fish counted to ensure that they stayed within their specified limit. The first 100 walleye are measured, sexed and reported on the daily “catch report” which is submitted every night for data reporting early the next morning.
The highly regulated methods that are in place continue to ensure that there will be no over-harvesting on any lakes. While the Tribes declare their limit every year, they are always below the declarations.
“I do it because it’s not hard, except when we are out until daylight and then have to go to our regular jobs. It’s a learning and teaching experience,” Schuman said. “When non-spearer’s talk about it, I can tell them what happens out there. We follow all the rules and guidelines. I want to tell non-Natives how important it is to these families to be able to do this, to feed their families and our Elders.”
Schuman said that so far this season, they haven’t experienced any negativity. She shared that recently a man who lives near one of the boat landings was curious to know what they did and why. Schuman said that she was happy to spend some time talking with him about all the procedures.
“I always welcome people to come to my landings so they can see for themselves what we do, and possibly find a boat that would allow them to ride with to check it out,” Schuman said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to see it firsthand.”