Walt Bressett, Ojibwe leader and environmental hero, inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame



Ojibwa environmental and treaty rights activist Walt Bressett will be posthumously inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame (WCHF) in a virtual ceremony on April 17, 2024. Mr. Blessett is joined by Aldo Leopold, Nina Leopold Bradley, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, and Menominee Nation environmental activist Hilary Waukaw Sr.

Blessett (1947-1999) was a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwa and a longtime treaty rights and environmental activist, author, artist, storyteller, organizer, and speaker. He was an outspoken advocate of Ojibwa Treaty rights and encouraged people to come to spring boating in northern Wisconsin during the spearfishing conflict (1980s and 1990s). Walt wondered why people choose to go far away to show support for others, when there are urgent calls for solidarity closer to home. “You don’t have to testify in Nicaragua; you can testify in your own backyard,” Bressette said.

Walt founded the Nonviolent Witnesses for Treaty and Rural Rights in northern Wisconsin, which was modeled after the group Witnesses for Peace, which was active during the Central American War (particularly in the Contra-supported areas of Nicaragua). He was the founder. Witnesses in Wisconsin recorded anti-Indian harassment and violence at boat launches. By 1992, due to the efforts of witnesses and a federal court injunction against anti-Indian harassment, violence at the boat ramps had decreased.

Blessett was a prolific organizer who brought Native Americans and rural white communities together through organizations such as the Midwest Treaty Network, the Upper Great Lakes Green Network, and the Wisconsin Green Party. He said the conflict between Native and non-Native people over the walleye harvest has distracted both groups from the far more serious pollution threat to Wisconsin’s fisheries from metal sulfide mining projects.

One of his strongest messages was that Ojibwe treaty rights provide the greatest environmental protection against destructive metal sulfide mining, such as the Crandon and Ladysmith mining projects, in the Lake Superior Ojibwa Tribe’s ceded territory. It was to be provided. This was not because the tribes had direct rights to the minerals, which they never did, but because mining threatens the environment, and threats to the environment are threats to Ojibwe fishing, hunting, and gathering rights. Treaty rights give Ojibwe legal standing in federal court to protect fish, deer and wild rice habitat.

Mr. Bressett was a leader in the successful resistance movement to the controversial Crandon mine adjacent to the Sokaogon Ojibwa reservation (2003) and led the effort to enact Wisconsin’s “Prove It First” mining moratorium law. led a grassroots movement. The law, signed by Governor Tommy Thompson on Earth Day 1998, prohibits new mines in sulfide ore bodies until mining applicants can prove that previous U.S. mines have not contaminated surface or groundwater. It was prohibited to open one. Canada.

As a nonviolent ogichidag (protector of the people), Blessett was active in the opposition to the Rio Tinto/Kennecott copper mine next to the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. In 1991, Lac Cote Oreille Ojibwe and the Sierra Club obtained a preliminary injunction against construction of a mine because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to conduct an environmental assessment of endangered resources in the Flambeau River. Obtained. Despite the restraining order, Kennecott continued construction activities at the site.

Bressett said the state of Wisconsin has failed to protect the interests of the Lake Superior Ojibwa Nation and has decided to take action to protect the environment.

I witnessed Bressett climb over a 10-foot safety fence on the Flambeau Mine site, armed with a club once used by Black Hawk, and stage a “coup” with a giant earth-moving machine. The act of attacking the machine was a symbolic score of victory over the enemy, but no physical damage was done. In his trial for trespassing on the mining company’s property, Bressett argued that the mining permit was illegal because the state of Wisconsin did not consult with Lake Superior and Ojibwe about its treaty rights in the Flambeau River fishery before issuing the mining permit. He said there is.

I interviewed Bresset for my documentary film. Anishinabe rainbow (Friends of the First Peoples), about Indian and environmental resistance to the Flambeau mine project. Blessett and his good friend Sandy Lyon. Anishinaabe people. “One day our children will stand up and say, ‘Where were you when they poisoned my river?’” he said. His words were prescient. This mine was operated from 1993 to 1997. A tributary of the Flambeau River that crosses a portion of the reclaimed project site remains contaminated.

Bressett and Ogichida of the Bad River Ojibwa Reservation had greater success in 1996 when they blocked trains transporting sulfuric acid to copper mines near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and blocked trains passing through the reservation. Ta. The Ogitidars were concerned that the railroad tracks were dangerous and that runoff from the tankers would contaminate retained water and the Great Lakes region’s largest wild rice forest. The blockade lasted 28 days and prevented the transport of sulfuric acid across the reservation as federal mediators held talks with the Ogitida Nation, tribes, and railroads. The blockade and assertion of tribal sovereignty protected the Bad River’s sacred wild rice fields and won the support of surrounding communities.

Walt was a charismatic storyteller and was a regular keynote speaker at many Save the Earth festivals hosted by Sandy Lyon on Indian reservations in northern Wisconsin. His vision for Seventh Generation Constitutional Reform adopted an Iroquois concept that requires Iroquois leaders to consider how their decisions today will affect the Seventh Generation in the future. This amendment would “promote the right of the people to use and enjoy air, water, sunlight, and other renewable resources determined by Congress to be common property, and that such use shall be protected by future generations.” without prejudice to their availability.”

Sandy Lyon eloquently summed up Bressette’s influence in a radio memorial broadcast on Woodland Community Radio WOJB-FM on the Lac Courte Oreille Reservation: “He was like a north star and people followed him.”

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