I've been thinking about a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend that's had me thinking about what's offensive to some, but not to others. Both of us spent some time in northern Wisconsin in the late 1980s when spearfishing was a real divisive issue. He was one of those that protested Native American spearing of walleyes. I worked at a radio station in Minocqua, which reported on that issue.
Now some 20 years later he still feels that spearfishing continues to have an unjust impact on bag limits on lakes across the state. He says for him it was never about Native American's ancient right to spearfish, but how it affects the fishery. He says at one point he wrote a letter to the editor to express that and was rewarded with comments from others that he was a racist.
I remember living in Minocqua and what it was like. I used to be part of a deejay service that played weddings and other gatherings. We did one in a bar one time and one of the first questions we were asked was what side of the spearfishing issue we were on. We had to do our own version of a little dance to get around that question and make it through the night.
I never had an objection to spearfishing even though I heard the stories about the bathtubs full of walleyes that were rotting out of spite. I also recall one day at the radio station when the two sides were debating the issue live and a bomb threat was called in.
Some things haven't changed much. Back in the early 2000s a friend who still lives in the Minocqua-Woodruff area considered pulling her teenage daughter out of Lakeland High School and sending her to live with her folks in the U.P. Her daughter was a serious student and there were problems at Lakeland High School where white girls were being beaten up by their Native American classmates. She wanted her daughter to attend school where she felt safe. In the end they stuck it out.
Recently the Governor signed into law a bill that allows the State Superintendent of Schools to make decisions about whether school nicknames or mascots are offensive to Native Americans. Many schools saw that coming years ago and shed offensive nicknames or symbols. I can understand why the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians might be offensive.
My brother John likes to fish for walleyes, but he lives in the U.P, which hasn't seen quite the same impact on fishing that spearfishing has had here. He and my other brothers and sisters like to take an occasional trip to the Native American casino in my hometown. That's something I won't do, but it has more to do with me not really liking to gamble than who owns and operates the casino. The only UP high school team I can think of with an Indian-type of nickname is the Gladstone Braves.
Now back to my friend. Here's a few questions he asked me that got me thinking. He asked, “Were you born in the U.S.?” I replied, “Yes.” He says, “Well then doesn't that make you Native American?”