Complex history of first peoples

The Star Tribune proudly declared in a headline on the front page Dec. 3 that “The Ojibwe were here first. A new map is a reminder.” (Read below this post) This is false. A quick search on the internet reveals the Sioux actually inhabited Minnesota first, until they were driven off their lands by the Ojibwe. In fact, the name “Sioux” comes from an Ojibwe word meaning “snakelike enemy.”

But this above episode reveals another historical fact, also often ignored by popular culture, which is that claiming your conquered enemies’ lands as your own was the norm nearly everywhere in the world, not the invention of degenerate white imperialists. In fact, this global norm only ended, and even then barely 100 years ago, thanks to the rise of Western (i.e., European) philosophy promoting a people’s self determination and the importance of a physical cultural homeland.

We live in a time where there is an imperative to relook at our past and piece together the true story of our common history. This is only possible through truly scrubbing out the lies we’ve been told, not telling new ones.

Patrick Freese, Minneapolis

Original Strib article

The Ojibwe were here first. A new map is a reminder


DULUTH – Ziinzibaakwutakaming is “the place for making maple sugar” on the south shore of Nett Lake. Ginewigwasensikag is the “long promontory of birch trees” on Lake Vermilion, also known as Birch Point.

These Ojibwe names and meanings and more than 100 others are translated on a new handmade map of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa’s traditional realm, extending 100 miles between the eastern shores of Lake Vermilion to Nett Lake, encompassing about 7,000 square miles.

The map, more than two years in the making, is intended to restore Indigenous names to rivers, lakes, islands and other points of interest found in the boreal forests inhabited by the Bois Forte band for hundreds of years.

“Those people really had a sense of place and a sense of belonging to the land,” which is reflected in naming practices, said Rick Anderson, a Bois Forte tribal citizen who worked on the project.

The names are descriptors, many for food sources s uch as rabbits, and geographic identifiers. Some are likely for something witnessed and passed down through storytelling.

A bay described as “Young porcupine swimming place” is an example of that, Anderson said.

The m ap is a reminder “that people were here before, and we share the love and respect of the land as they did,” he said.

Helmed by the Ely Folk School and the Bois Forte band, the idea of the map formed when a Folk School group that made birch bark canoes made its annual paddle of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness lakes to a Lac La Croix First Nation powwow along the Ontario- Minnesota border. The tribe in 2019 had displayed a map made of Native place names for Quetico Provincial Park , made by retracing oral histories of its elders.

It inspired the Folk School to create a similar one for northern Minnesota, said Paul Schurke, a board member of the nonprofit.

Research came from conversations with elders, Ojibwe-filled missionary and anthropologist diaries from Smithsonian Institution archives, a 1922 pre-Boundary Waters recreation area proposal by Arthur Carhart and Leo Chosa , and Warren Upham’s “Minnesota Geographic Names.”

The greatest concentration of Indigenous names was found where the Bois Forte made their home, in that expanse of forestland between Lake Vermilion and Nett Lake.

Bois Forte artist Louise Isham and Arden Hills artistic cartographer Keith Myrmel volunteered their services to create the map.

Myrmel, who has handdrawn maps of the Boundary Waters and the North Country Trail, said the map “is really taking a step back in time.”

“You are seeing what really drew people to this area,” he said of the scores of lakes and other bodies of water that aided travel and provided manoomin (wild rice) , fish and other food. “It’s almost a survival kind of map.”

Similar maps exist for the Dakota people of Minnesota, said Amber Annis, d irector of Native American Initiatives for the Minnesota Historical Society, but none she’s aware of for the state’s Anishinaabe .

Such maps make people think more deeply about Minnesota’s history, she said, and understand how it extends beyond borders, offering a window into Indigenous ways of thinking.

“It reminds us that before Americans arrived, there was a very different view of the land,” Annis said.

The Folk School, having found Native names for places throughout the Boundary Waters and the Arrowhead region, hopes to eventually expand the map to include them.

An unusual number of northern lakes are named for women, stemming to lumberjack surveying of the area, Schurke said, noting they were likely named for love interests.

The map was unveiled Wednesday at the Bois Forte cultural museum . It includes historical information about the band, its chiefs and traditions, along with its migration story. Copies of the map will eventually be sold, and a grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board will cover map production for area schools.

Bois Forte Tribal Chair Cathy Chavers said in a news release that the project “underscores our voice and our history in the region.”

“This map will serve as a tribute to all who came before us and to the future generations,” she said.

Jana Hollingsworth • 612-673-4228


IH – Comments on Radomski post

I read the chapter on Mille Lacs (Chapter 9) in Paul Radomski’s book. I also checked every reference to the phrase “gill net” (he rarely uses the hyphenated version) and the phrase “hooking mortality” in the whole book and the Notes section. I also checked the word “spawn” only where it was connected to timing (once.) Nowhere is “gill net” used in the same sentence with “during the spawn.”

There are no simple take-aways. I had no idea just how complex the the “management problem” is. It does mean the DNR is in a weak position from which to “negotiate” with the tribes. Which of course is heavily compounded by having state leadership (Governor and AG) fully invested is giving the tribes anything and everything they want.

I found a few items to look at again that may possibly be developed into understandable take-aways.

Thinking that no small amount of complexity comes from managing for two totally different versions of access, harvest, and sustainability. Which could also be addressed by calling for equal hunting and fishing rights for all. And honoring all treaties as written.

Looking back:

Nowhere in the treaty, nor in the (allocation-free) District Court or SCOTUS rulings are there any prescriptions about how to harvest. The (everywhere stated) “usurfructuary” right to harvest is the only way harvest rights are described.

That is, the right of tribe to use and enjoy (in this case, temporarily) the now United States territory, ceded by the tribe, provided its substance is neither impaired nor altered. In the case of consumables, they must be consumed in a sustainable manner.

It was a generous–but temporary offer–to facilitate the transition of tribal territory being ceded to Federal ownership of the land.

It was only the failure of an 1850 legal termination of those “harvest rights” to pass muster in a twentieth century caliber legal environment.