Legal Action

The state of Michigan's 1960's plan to minimize commercial fishing in the Great Lakes in favor of sports fishing ran afoul of a resurgent Native American community asserting that they had a treaty right to fish commercially in their traditional waters. These rights, Indians argued, derived from nineteenth century treaties between their bands and the federal government. Because these treaties were guaranteed by the federal government rights found in them superceded state regulation. The state, however, denied that the Native American community had any such fishing rights. When Native Americans engaged in commercial fishing ventures that violated state law arrests occurred and the matter quickly ended up in court.

In 1965 William Jondreau, a Chippewa from L'Anse, took to court Michigan's first treaty fishing rights case. Jondreau asserted that as a member of the L'Anse band of Chippewas he was free to fish in the area he had been arrested because of Article 2 of the treaty signed September 30, 1854. Although lower state courts dismissed Jondreau's claim, in April 1971 the State Supreme Court upheld Jondreau. However, the impact of this decision was limited. The treaty cited was a minor one that affected very few bands.