Restoring a Tribe's Natural Resource

A documentary produced by the UA's Native Nations Institute and Arizona Public Media chronicles the efforts of a remote band of Indians and state officials in Minnesota to bring a game fish back from near extinction.
Feb. 4, 2011
Employees of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Department of Natural Resources assess the walleye in Red Lake. (Photo: Red Lake Department of Natural
Resources)
Employees of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Department of Natural Resources assess the walleye in Red Lake. (Photo: Red Lake Department of Natural Resources)
Herman Lussier, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Department of Natural Resources, carries a pan of walleye filets. (Photo: Keri Pickett)
Herman Lussier, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's Department of Natural Resources, carries a pan of walleye filets. (Photo: Keri Pickett)

A just-released documentary film, "Ogaag bii azhe giiwewag: Return of the Red Lake Walleye," chronicles the extraordinary effort of the Minnesota-based Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians to revive a key cultural resource.

The tribe, which lives near the Canadian border, worked with the state and federal governments to restore the walleye – a culturally important game fish species – from the brink of extinction and restore it to health.

The Native Nations Institute, or NNI, based at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, produced the film, its first cinematic effort.

The film examines how the Red Lake Chippewas and Minnesota overcame decades of bad blood to forge an innovative public policy solution that puts cooperation before conflict and science before politics, fueling an amazing recovery that has defied the odds. The walleye-recovery project won an Honoring Nations award from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development in 2006.

"It's a very impressive film," said Oren Lyons, chief and faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation and chairman of Honoring Nations at the Harvard Project. "The key to the successful restoration of the Red Lake walleye was the sacrifice of Anishinaabe fishermen to stop fishing as long as necessary to bring the fish back, for the good of the commons as well as future generations."

"Red Lake leaders took sovereign initiatives based on our old values and principles. Business as usual is over. It's cooperation rather than competition and respect for the fish that sustain us. The rest of the world should take a lesson from Red Lake," he said.

A joint production of the NNI and Arizona Public Media, "Return of the Red Lake Walleye" was written, produced and directed by Ian Record, NNI's manager of educational resources.

"Producing this film was a labor of love," Record said. "It was an honor to present this amazing story of innovation, collaboration and persistence. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa's successful effort to bring back the walleye fish speaks to the prudence and tangible benefits of Indian self-determination."

Leah Lussier, a citizen of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and a recent graduate of the UA James E. Rogers College of Law's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program, narrated the film. Award-winning Ojibwe musician Keith Secola provided the music score.

"Return of the Red Lake Walleye" is slated to air on more than a dozen PBS stations across several states beginning in January. More information about the film and the story at its heart is online at the film's website. Check local listing for times.