Man charged with harassing tribal members spearfishing on Mille Lacs

Mille Lacs Lake
The shoreline of Mille Lacs Lake at Fisher's Resort in Isle, Minn. Court documents say a Native American family was lawfully exercising their treaty rights when people on shore screamed racist profanities and threatened to shoot them. 
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2012

A Twin Cities man has been charged in Mille Lacs County for allegedly harassing a Native American family as they spearfished last spring on Mille Lacs Lake, a practice allowed under treaty rights.

Colin James Louvar, 23, of Lino Lakes, Minn., is accused of yelling racist profanities and exposing himself to the tribal members, one of whom was a 13-year-old. 

The charges filed against Louvar last month via summons include felony harassment committed because of bias; indecent exposure in front of a minor under 16, a gross misdemeanor; and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

According to court documents, law enforcement officers were called to a disturbance at a residence on the east side of the lake on April 10, 2021. 

A man had reported to a game warden from the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission that people at the residence were yelling, throwing rocks and threatening to shoot him, his partner, his 18-year-old son and 13-year-old son while they were spearfishing from a boat.

The victims were tribal members who were lawfully exercising their treaty rights, the complaint states. 

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They included members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from Bayfield, Wis., one of six Ojibwe bands from Wisconsin that retain fishing rights on Mille Lacs, along with the Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac bands in Minnesota.

The victims reported that occupants of the residence, who appeared intoxicated, screamed profanities and racist comments, including calling them “(expletive) Indians” and “savages” who are “killing all of our fish.” 

One unidentified man threatened to shoot the victims with a shotgun, while another claimed he had an AK-47 rifle “and if you come closer I could hit you,” the complaint states. Portions of the incident were recorded on cellphone video.

During the exchange, the victims reported that a man identified as Louvar repeatedly pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks in front of the 13-year-old. 

When officers spoke to Louvar, he said people on the lake were shining their light toward the house when he “got a little aggressive,” but was within his rights, the complaint states. He denied throwing anything and could not recall whether anyone had exposed themselves or threatened the boaters.

When a Mille Lacs County investigator interviewed Louvar again in December, he said he owns an AK-47, which was at his house in Coon Rapids, Minn., the night of the confrontation, according to the complaint.

A call to Louvar’s attorney was not returned.

Incidents of harassment toward tribal members exercising treaty rights have been on the rise over the past five years, said Charlie Rasmussen, communications director for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission. 

“Whether you're angling, whether you're spearing – no one should have to suffer harassment,” Rasmussen said. “If you're a state-licensed angler recreating, or a licensed Ojibwe fisherman who's fishing basically for the table, this harassment is something that should not be tolerated.”

The Ojibwe tribes retained the rights to hunt, fish and gather on lands they ceded to the federal government through treaties signed in the mid-1800s, and court decisions have upheld those rights in recent decades.

The springtime fishing season lasts a few weeks beginning when the ice leaves the lakes, Rasmussen said. During that time, tribal members use spears or gill nets to harvest fish, often for multiple families, he said.

“It's a time when traditionally, people gather at a time of abundance, and they store up those resources for the coming year,” he said. 

Rasmussen said harassment of tribal members over fishing rights peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when anti-spearing anglers staged protests in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The 2000s were a quieter decade, but much of the criticism moved to online chat rooms and comment sections, he said.

“Now, people seem to be feeling emboldened to come out and do it face to face,” Rasmussen said. 

Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh said he hasn’t seen many cases of this type of harassment of tribal members, either on or off the lake. 

In his seven years as county attorney, Walsh said he can’t recall ever having filed a charge of felony harassment based on bias. He said the facts of the case warranted the charge, particularly comments made about “a specific type of firearm being used in a specific way to hurt someone.”

“Those are concerning statements,” Walsh said. “And those are statements that we don't take lightly.”