Lake Superior Whitefish: Carrying on a Family Tradition

Lake_Superior_WhitefishPat & Chris Peterson, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Avid fishermen for subsistence prior to European settlement, the Lake Superior Chippewa quickly found Gichigami’s (Ojibwe word for Lake Superior) fish to be a valued trade item once explorers penetrated to this inland sea. Tribal fishermen traded fish harvested from birch bark canoes, using gill nets made form twisted and knotted strips of willow bark.

As more and more settler pushed into the Lake Superior region, non-Indian commercial fishing began to take hold with the use of large boats and massive nets. In 1984, the treaty tribes formed the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), an agency of elven Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, to jointly manage the Lake Superior tribal commercial fishery as well as off-reservation inland hunting, fishing and gather activities in the ceded territories.

Tribal commercial fishermen in Lake Superior primarily target whitefish, but also fish for lake trout, siscowet, herring, and salmon. Tribal commercial fishing is regulated through tribal codes as well as through negotiated agreements with the state of Wisconsin for the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior.

The family owned and managed Peterson’s Fish Market is one of several fish businesses run by tribal families. They are an inter-generational family business. Gilmore Peterson, a Red Cliff tribal member and a fourth generation commercial fisherman, learned the trade from his father Wilfred, who in turn learned from his father. Today, Gilmore and his wife Pat run the business while their three sons, Chris, Joel and Matt, ply the waters and the rest of their family members work at the Peterson’s Fish Market in Hancock, Michigan and the adjacent Four Suns cafe.


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The Ways is an ongoing series of stories from Native communities around the central Great Lakes. The Ways is a production of Wisconsin Media Lab.

From Food for Thought, Issue 9. Published August 2013.

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