Esther has traveled on, taking her place among the ancestors
Dear friend of Ogima ogiishik okway, Esther Nahgahnub,
I am sorry to inform you in this way that my grandmother has taken her journey through the stars to the place of our ancestors. On Thursday, November 29th her spirit moved on peacefully, in a beautiful way; her family surrounding her, loving her. Her wishes to be burried traditionally in a sacred manner were carried out accordingly. She was loved, honored and celebrated in life and in passing. Her life has touched us all in many ways, and in ways yet to come.
Here is the link to the guestbook on the Duluth News Tribune website.
Duluth News printed a beautiful article about her.
Esther Nahgahnub holds a staff during the "Walk to Remember" around Lake Superior in 2000.
Ojibwe 'head woman' remembered for strength
By Jana Hollingsworth
Duluth News Tribune
December 1, 2007
Esther Nahgahnub, who was involved in a landmark treaty rights case, died Thursday of cancer. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member was 66.
Nahgahnub, of Sawyer, whose Ojibwe name is Ogima geshig gwok quay, meaning "Head Woman in the Sky," was known for her activism on behalf of the environment and indigenous treaty rights.
"She was a woman warrior," said Al Hunter, an American Indian studies instructor at the College of St. Scholastica and honorary grandson to Nahgahnub. "She was an elegant and powerful leader for native peoples and for people who believe in protecting the Earth."
Nahgahnub participated in the "Walk to Remember," a journey around Lake Superior in 2000 to meet people living near the lake to develop a vision for protecting the region's air, land and water. It also was to remember the late Walt Bresette, a Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa member and an activist.
During the walk, Nahgahnub broke her ankle in Ontario, but that only slowed her for a couple of days, Hunter said.
"She had us push her in a wheelchair because she didn't want to miss anything," he said.
Nahgahnub and Bresette were charged in 1989 with violating federal law by selling migratory bird feathers on spiritual and artistic objects. The case was dismissed by U.S. District Court, which said they had the treaty right to sell bird feathers. The ruling was the first of its kind in federal court covering Minnesota, and said that Chippewa Indians have the right to hunt, fish, gather and sell items in treaty-covered areas of Northeastern Minnesota. It also ignored state lines in allowing Bresette to sell items in Minnesota.
"[The judge] has erased state lines as far as the ceded territory goes, and that has vast implications," said Roger Jourdain, former Red Lake Tribal chairman, in a 1991 News Tribune story.
When she learned of the decision, Nahgahnub didn't know how to react, she said in another 1991 story.
"Except I can imagine my grandfather smiling," she said.
"She was fearless about the 'Feathergate' case," said Hunter, using the popular nickname for the incident. "She was a woman who didn't back down."
Nahgahnub was a descendant of Chief Nahgahnub, one of the signers of the 1854 treaty that established the Fond du Lac reservation.
She was active in preserving treaty rights, said Jeff Savage, a Fond du Lac member and friend to Nahgahnub.
"There was a time just before gaming when a lot of tribal councils were very short of funds, and the state was trying to bribe us with money to relinquish a lot of our rights," he said. "But Esther and a majority of tribal people on Fond du Lac felt that rights were worth more than money."
Savage said Nahgahnub would use her own money for causes if she had to, and had strong opinions.
"You either really agreed with her or you really disagreed with her," he said.
As the attorney for the Fond du Lac band, Dennis Peterson worked with Nahgahnub several times, saying he had a multifaceted relationship with her.
"At times it was not friendly; at time challenging and adversarial," he said. "But it was always a respectful, issue-oriented dialogue. To a non-Indian such as myself who works for the band, she helped enlighten me to many of the values underlying the understanding of the treaty rights and their exercise."
He said she taught him that hunting and fishing rights weren't about the animals and fish, but about the relationship the Ojibwe have with them and the land.
"They have lost a champion," he said.
Nahgahnub handled the treaty rights case and her many causes with the greatest amount of dignity, said Frank Koehn, of Herbster, and a fellow activist and friend.
"It was a gift to be at the time and place with people like Esther to address issues of racism, and clean water and air," said Koehn, who also participated in the walk around Lake Superior.
Hunter recalled a trip to Nova Scotia, Canada, where he and Nahgahnub traveled to support a tribe dealing with lobster fishing rights, the way area tribes had dealt with spear fishing rights. They had arrived amid commotion and barricades, and as soon as the two exited their vehicle, Nahgahnub jumped into another vehicle carrying tribal leaders and headed to the barricades.
"I didn't even have time to turn around and she was already gone," Hunter said.
She was a sweet, witty woman, who shared her vast knowledge of treaty rights, Indian law and traditions in her many battles and "sometimes just around a campfire with young people and friends," he said.
The reservation has lost a role model, another traditional Ojibwe Indian and a strong woman, Savage said.
"We don't like to lose our strong women," he said. "Hopefully somewhere sometime on the reservation another woman will take her place."
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