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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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Ojibwe band may regain Ancestors' Burial Ground
SURPLUS PROPERTY: The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa may gain control of 18 acres at the end of Wisconsin Point that it lost in 1918.

by STEVE KUCHERA - Duluth News Tribune
credits: photo - Bob Miller, president of Superior Area Indian Center, and his daughter, Jaime Miller, stand on land near the end of Wisconsin Point. - Justin Hayworth - Duluth News Tribune

Bob Miller, president of Superior Area Indian Center, and his daughter, Jaime Miller, stand on land near the end of Wisconsin Point.Nearly 90 years after their forebears were evicted from Wisconsin Point, Ojibwe Indians may regain control over a small part of the land.

If successful, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa might use the former U.S. Army Corps of Engineer property at the end of Wisconsin Point as a cemetery for human remains removed from the point in 1918.

The remains were reburied in a mass grave in Superior's St. Francis Cemetery.

"If we are successful in getting the property back, we would give due consideration for a reburial back on Wisconsin Point for those individuals that were put in that mass grave," said Band Chairman Robert "Sonny" Peacock. "And we would like to keep that area as a historical site, probably educational as well."

The Army declared the 18.2-acre property to be surplus late in 2002. Earlier this year, the General Services Administration, which will dispose of the property, asked other federal agencies if they wanted the land.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs responded in March that it wants to obtain the property and hold it in trust for the Fond du Lac Band. No money would change hands if the transaction advances.

The bureau will submit a formal application for the property to the General Serv- ices Administration later this month, BIA environmental scientist Herb Nelson said. The General Services Administration will review the application when it arrives.

"If it's complete, we approve it, and the property is transferred," said General Services Administration real estate specialist Arthur Ullenberg.

The property includes two houses, a four-bay garage and a dock that were part of a former U.S. lighthouse station built about 1912. The Corps would reserve an easement on 3.33 acres to allow for work on the road and shipping channel.

The federal government has owned the property since it was condemned in 1901. The Ojibwe lost the rest of Wisconsin Point about 1918 in a dispute with the Interstate Railroad Co.

In 1914, area Ojibwe petitioned President Woodrow Wilson and Indian Commissioner Cato Sells for help in the ownership dispute.

"We do with horror contemplate being torn from the property of our fathers on Wisconsin Point, our dear honored dead removed and the sacred cemetery desecrated," they wrote. "Seven generations and more lie buried in this cemetery, including Chief O-sa-gie."

But corporate interests prevailed, and the Ojibwe and some of their graves were moved.

"We found one paper that was written by a young man who was a water boy out there when they were moving the cemetery," Superior Area Indian Center President Robert Miller said. "They only moved the graves that were well-marked. Out of about 300 bodies that were out there, they moved about 180. My grandmother knew where a lot were."

Miller's grandmother was raised on the point. He said there were about seven homes in the village when its residents were evicted.

Today, some people still consider the area to be sacred. Graves remain under the point's road and one of its parking lots, said Miller, who opposes talk to either expand the road or extend the Osaugie Trail onto the point.

The paved bike trail is named for a Fond du Lac leader, the Chief O-sa-gie of the 1914 petition.

Peacock said there is no timetable for the possible movement of graves back to the point if the band regains control of the land.

"That's a technical point, a cultural religious point that I can't even approach," he said. "I don't know what the medicine people would say on something like that. I don't know what the process would be."

Because federal agencies get the first chance to obtain surplus federal property, the Bureau of Indian Affairs application on behalf of the Fond du Lac Band likely dashes the University of Wisconsin-Superior's desire to obtain the land for itself.

UWS's Lake Superior Research Institute has talked about using the area for natural and cultural education.

The UWS institute operates the research vessel L.L. Smith, which is also used for education. UWS once leased the Wisconsin Point property but let the lease lapse during a budget crunch in 1986. The L.L. Smith now docks in Minnesota.

"We understand it's property that's important to the tribe, and would be satisfied if they gain ownership of it," UWS spokeswoman Beth George said.

STEVE KUCHERA can be reached at (218) 279-5503, toll free at (800) 456-8282, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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