The Vilas County Sheriff’s Office said that shots fired on Little Saint Germain Lake Saturday night were not meant to frighten tribal harvesters spearfishing at a pier nearby, but a tribal agency has countered that claim.
The man who fired the shots is expected to be charged with being armed while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, Sheriff Joseph Fath said. The shots were reported about 9 p.m., he said, and was investigated by deputies and wardens of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.
The man who fired the gun said he was trying to shoot a red squirrel outside of his home, but no shell casings or BBs were found, Fath said. Likewise, no evidence was seen on the lake near the pier, either.
Fath said a full report of the incident was still being compiled for the Vilas County District Attorney, but the report is expected to be finished and the man will be charged before the end of the week.
But the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission, in a statement, said the harvesters were harassed before the gunshots. Several people were on a dock not far from the man’s house.
Dylan Jennings, the public information officer for the commission, said Thursday that incidents like these are often diminished.
The release also explained that each year during spearfishing season, harvesters endure aggression, such as having rocks thrown at them and racial slurs yelled at them.
“This is indeed a sign that we need to continue to educate the broader public about federally protected treaty rights,” said Michael Isham, the commission’s executive director, in the release. “Tribal subsistence harvesting has been a tradition for generations, and these tribal fishermen were simply out harvesting to feed their communities.”
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also issued a statement Wednesday, condemning the incident.
A 1983 court case affirmed the right of the Chippewa tribes to hunt, fish and gather in treaty ceded territory. Since the late 1980s, the tribes have exercised their right to take walleyes and other fish by spearing and netting.
The tribal take of walleyes by spearing, especially during the spawning period, once caused heated protests at boat landings from sport anglers. Public demonstration against spearing largely ended after a rule implemented in 2015 that allows the DNR to set limits on walleye taking on northern lakes.
Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.
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