Greg “Biskakone” Johnson is a member of the Lynx Clan and an enrolled member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. His home on the Lac du Flambeau reservation established by the Treaty of 1854 is also known as Waaswaaganing, “the place of the torch.”
Greg lives his life according to the four seasons, as did his ancestors. He harvests deer, fish, maple sugar, berries, wild rice, and wild plants. He enjoys trapping and snaring as well as hunting with a gun. Greg is passionate about keeping the traditional ways alive, and he takes every opportunity to teach these ways to others. Whether he is taking a group of students spearing for the first time or showing community members how to make buckskin moccasins, he shares his knowledge in the hope of keeping a vibrant traditional way of life relevant today. Greg’s favorite students are his two children, Wasanodae and Koen. Greg taught his daughter how to skin a deer when she was four and his son to make moccasins at age five. Together, the kids tracked their first deer before they turned six.
Greg follows traditional practices when hunting and uses nearly all parts of the deer for food, clothing, and tools. Providing deer meat to elders in and for ceremonies is a priority for Greg. He is often called upon to provide the deer meat or wild rice for community feasts and funerals. Despite their legal standing, hunting rights of tribal members are constantly under scrutiny. Greg feels it is his duty to use his treaty rights so no one can argue that the rights aren’t necessary or relevant today.
These rights originated during the treaty era, when a burgeoning population of Americans moving west set their sites on the vast resources of Ojibwe (Chippewa) territory. The Ojibwe ceded millions of acres of land in exchange for cash, goods, and services. But the inherent right to survive via hunting, fishing and gathering on those ceded territories was retained by the tribe in the treaties of 1836 and 1842, commonly known as the “Pine” and “Mineral” treaties respectively.
In 1848, Wisconsin became a state, and the Ojibwe found themselves subject to a number of state and federal policies. Most notable were state policies that limited their right to hunt, fish and gather. Conservation laws enacted in Wisconsin failed to recognize the treaties and the reserved resource rights of the Ojibwe. When they exercised these rights by hunting or fishing in the ceded territories, Ojibwe people were subject to search, seizure, jail, and fines imposed by the state.
A lawsuit was filed in 1974 requesting that the State of Wisconsin cease enforcing state laws against tribal members who were exercising legal treaty rights, and the Ojibwe eventually regained these rights in 1991. As off-reservation harvests began, a controversial period in Wisconsin history also started. Protesters attempted to intimidate Ojibwe people and stop them from hunting or fishing in the ceded lands. It took the rulings of a federal judge to make exercising their treaty rights safer for Ojibwe people.
Today deer hunting season in the ceded territory lasts for four months and is regulated by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). When Greg hunts on the Lac du Flambeau reservation, hunting is regulated by the tribe. The reservation hunt is modeled after the old way of hunting. Traditionally, the first sign of fireflies is when the Lac du Flambeau people began their hunt for deer. It ends when the weather gets very cold.
In addition to constantly striving to live a traditional life, Greg works with students at the local public school teaching Waaswaaganing culture and language. His life goal is to preserve and enhance Ojibwe culture to ensure that it is enjoyed for generations to come.
- Finn Ryan
Producer, Director, Photography
- Lukas Korver
- Asche & Spencer
- Leon "Boycee" Valliere