Background to treaty rights
Tribal fishing rights are accorded as a matter of federal treaty. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, Indian tribes were independent, sovereign nations. Although the Chippewa tribes ceded their land in the northern one-third of Wisconsin to the United States government in the Treaties of 1837 and 1842, they reserved their off-reservation rights to hunt, fish, and gather within the Ceded Territory. The maintenance of these rights is comparable to a conservation easement or the retention of mineral rights by someone selling real estate.
In 1983, in what is commonly referred to as the Voigt case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that the off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering rights are part of the sovereign rights that the Chippewa Tribes of Wisconsin have always had and that they have never been voluntarily given up nor terminated by the federal government. The courts defined the scope of these rights between 1985 and 1991. As a result, the Chippewa tribes of Wisconsin are allowed to legally harvest walleyes and muskellunge using a variety of high-efficiency methods, including spearing and gillnetting, on lakes within the Ceded Territory