Walter Bresette (July 4, 1947 - February 21, 1999) was a prominent Ojibwe activist, politician, and author most notable for work on environmental issues and Ojibwe treaty rights in Northern Wisconsin and the Lake Superior region. He founded or co-founded several organizations including Witness for Nonviolence, the Midwest Treaty Network, and the Wisconsin Green Party.
Personal life Edit
Bresette, born in 1947, was an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a member of the Loon clan. He served in the United States Army and was stationed in Japan. Later, he returned to Red Cliff and operated a trading-goods store.
Spearfishing protests Edit
In the late 1980s, Northern Wisconsin erupted in violence in response to the Ojibwe reassertion of traditional spearfishing rights in what would later be described as the Wisconsin Walleye War. Although, Red Cliff was not as active as some of the other bands in pushing for treaty rights, Bresette emerged as one of the most eloquent and outspoken defenders of the cause. To help document the violent acts of the anti-spearing protesters and inaction of local law enforcement, and to protect the spearfishers themselves, Bresette organized the group Witness for Nonviolence to bring sympathetic "witnesses" to record what happened at the boat landings on video. During this period, Bresette operated a mall store in Duluth, Minnesota that was targeted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service who raided the store and seized several migratory bird feathers. Bresette claimed the right to possess and sell these items due to treaty rights. In a decision that helped clarify the rights of Ojibwes to possess feathers, a United States District Court judge returned the feathers. It was widely speculated the seizures were politically motivated, but they ultimately served to advance Bresette's cause. Bresette would later document this period of unrest in Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance Against Racism and for the Earth, a book co-written with Rick Whaley.
Mining Protests Edit
During the 1990s, Bresette's activities focused on opposition to proposed sulfide mines in Northern Wisconsin. In each mining battle, Bresette pressed the case of treaty rights and of Ojibwe sovereignty over resources on ceded territory. He co-founded Anishinabe Niijii to oppose mining claiming it brought environmental destruction that threatened several key watersheds including that of Lake Superior. The group unsuccessfully attempted to block operations at a sulfide mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. During these protests, Bresette is remembered for striking mining equipment with the war club of the famous Sauk chief Black Hawk, a gift given to Bresette for his work. The group, however, was successful in stopping the proposed Lynne mine in Oneida County. The primary target of protest during this period was the proposed Crandon mine in Forest County. The zinc sulfide deposits there were targeted for extraction by Exxon and other companies, but Bresette and others pointed out the potential danger to the Wolf River watershed and the Mole Lake Ojibwe reservation. At the height of the Crandon controversy, Bresette's attentions were brought to another mining proposal. The White Pine mine in Michigan was a mostly defunct copper mine that was to have sulfuric acid poured into its shafts to leach out remaining copper without EPA oversight. Citing concerns over degradation to nearby Lake Superior, Bresette resigned an EPA position he held at the time and became a spokesperson for the group Anishinabe Ogitchida as they staged a protest stopping the tanker cars from carrying the sulfuric acid across the Bad River Ojibwe reservation in Ashland County, Wisconsin. The Bad River Train Blockade brought media scrutiny on the EPA and the eventual end to any attempts to revive the mine. Bresette lived long enough to see a mining moratorium passed in Wisconsin postponing the Crandon project indefinitely, but died before the purchase of the mine by two nearby tribes in 2003.
Other Political Activities Edit
Bresette was also highly active in politics at the local, state, and national levels. With a close associate, Frank Koehn of Herbster, Wisconsin, he started the Lake Superior Greens in the 1980s. The Lake Superior Greens being one of the earliest green parties in the United States successfully ran Koehn for Bayfield County board of supervisors in 1986. This was the first instance of a Green Party candidate winning any elected office in the United States. Bresette and Koehn were also key founding members of the Wisconsin Green Party which held its first convention in 1988. During the 1990s, Bresette pushed for the Seventh Generation Amendment, also known as the Common Property Amendment, to the United States Constitution. To promote the amendment, Bresette helped organize several protestors to walk completely around Lake Superior. He was active in promoting environmental, treaty rights and human rights issues until his 1999 death of a heart attack in Duluth, Minnesota.
See also Edit
- Crandon mine
- Bad River Train Blockade
- Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Frank Koehn
- Wisconsin Green Party