Tribes remember treaty signing; Native Americans feel sting of broken promises
By Andrew Browman
La Pointe, Wis. -- Tribes of the Ojibwe held ceremonies Monday commemorating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the 1854 treaty ceding lands to the United States, creating reservation boundaries and giving Native Americans in the state the right to hunt and fish on those ceded lands. "Our ancestors really sacrificed a lot for us," Butch Stone of the Bad River tribe said. "Now it's our duty and responsibility to try to hold onto what they've given us."
Events will continue through Thursday, when a feast is scheduled for noon. Monday started with the lighting of the sacred fire, along with sunrise and sacred pipe ceremonies. Other activities include talking circles, sweat lodges and Anishinabe history teachings.
Tribal members described the 1854 treaty as one of the few treaties the federal government hasn't completely ignored. Today's battles are often fought in court and through social activism.
In 1987, the state challenged the tribes' right to fish and hunt on ceded lands (those outside the reservation), and the Seventh District Circuit Court upheld those rights. The tribes, responding to accusations that the federal government gave them "special rights," were forced to defend those rights already given to them through treaty negotiations.
Most recently, the tribes have been fighting for "state status," granting them the power to stop companies from polluting air and water on Native American lands.
Fishing and hunting rights, reaffirmed in the 1987 Voigt decision, are proving hallow because of pollution, Stone said.
"Today, and what they knew back then also, was that the fish that we would be spearing in these inland lakes were so full of mercury, you couldn't eat them, anyway," he said.
Stone didn't have to look far for an example of federal government intrusion into Native American land. Near the treating gathering site sits the Madeline Island Yacht Club, which was part of an Indian burial ground before the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the area in 1967, tribal members said.
"Where the bones of our ancestors once rested are now $150,000 boats," Francis Leoso of Bad River said as he chatted with Stone by the sacred fire. Cedar branches created a ring around the fire, and tribal members sprinkled tobacco on the flames as an offering. "We never gave them permission to dig up our ancestors, to take our bones up, to study," Stone said.
What's left of the burial ground is relegated to a fenced-in area near the marina's entrance, tribal members said. The tribes did succeed in keeping out a condominium project, they noted. A plaque near the treaty gathering grounds commemorates that fight in 1983.
The burial grounds have special meaning for Sylvia Cloud of Bad River. Her great-great grandfather, Nawwawnawkwod, is buried there. He is also one of the 1854 treaty signers, she said.
Parts of dead tree trunks and branches covered his burial site. "This should not be here," she said, while picking at pieces of the ends of branches.
Cloud, one of the gathering's organizers, thought Nawwawnawkwod was looking onto Monday's ceremonies. His name means "leading cloud." "He was with us this morning when the thunderclouds rolled in," she said. "With the rain comes cleansing."
Cloud first discovered the marina's construction in 1970, when she visited the site with one of her aunts. She said she had been living out of the area for a number of years and knew nothing of the marina project. Before the marina was built, there was a small creek near the present burial grounds with a bridge connecting either side.
"My aunt was holding back the tears," she said. "We were shocked." Bad River and Red Cliff tribes have been holding ceremonies on the island since 1980, Cloud said, when she and now-deceased Victoria Gokee began researching the idea. Tribal elders Archie Mosay and Joe Shabiosh helped her resurrect the tribal ceremonies.
MTN Contents back to: Other Ojibwe Nation / Western Great Lakes News