MILLE LACS Band of CHIPPEWA INDIANS
Mille Lacs, Aitkin, Crow Wing and Pine counties, Minnesota
NOTE: While most of these reservation statistics come from tribal officers, as indicated here certain figures were obtained by Tiller from the BIA for Mille Lacs.
Mille Lacs has taken the lead in legal actions to try to regain and preserve land, water, hunting, fishing and gathering rights reserved to Ojibwe people under several land cession treaties and Executive Orders. Mille Lacs land history and leadership in the environmental and treaty rights struggles of Great Lakes native peoples is told in a booklet prepared by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, available via a Native environmental rights index web page. Fulltexts of treaties affecting Mille Lacs, and a thorough discussion by the leading expert of the current issues in the Mille Lacs hunting-fishing rights lawsuit will be found on Minnesota Treaties page.
Mille Lacs elder and beadworker Batiste Sam worked out, in beads, this leaf pattern logo, which is created in ceramic tiles to surface the front of the new Mille Lacs Indian museum. Mille Lacs has contributed a great deal to Anishinaabe art and culture.
Maude Kegg, elder, of Mille Lacs has been vitally important in preserving Anishnaabemowin -- Ojibwe language -- in working with linguists and a tribal recording project that has produced a low-cost A CONCISE DICTIONARY OF MINNESOTA OJIBWE by John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm, with the tribe contributing the linguistic computer database construction and subsidizing some of the printing costs (to the University of Minnesota Press). Her memories of her girlhood, raised traditionally near Mille Lacs, are published in PORTAGE LAKE: MEMORIES OF AN OJIBWE CHILDHOOD, Maude Kegg, ed. John D. Mitchell, in both the U.S. and Canada. Maude's beadwork is especially famous, and she is honored here by the dedication of MANIDOOMINENS: Sacred Seeds the art section of beadwork in her honor.
Little Otter Singers and drum group of Mille Lacs -- Pete Gahbow (lead), Art Gahbow, Bill Gahbow (Drumkeeper and Drumwarmer #1), Bill Erik (Drumwarmer #2), Tom Benjamin (Drumwarmer #3), Larry Smallwood, Darren Moose, Jard Gahbow, Ron White, Joe Cominghay. Little Otter was named by Pete Gahbow, when crossing the Little Otter River once driving along. The drum group is featured on a 1990 recording of drum music world wide, put together by famed Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
Little Otter has the opening song -- Grand Entry to the powwow naturally -- and another song on the "Honor the Earth Powwow" recording (1990 release) Hart put together in a 1989 visit to that powwow, held every year in Wisconsin by the Three Fires Society. Also featured are drums from other tribes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada. The album cover is the painting "Chippewa Dancer" (1970) by Red Laker Patrick Desjarlait. The recording's still for sale, and you can even download and play a track of the Little Otter Singers from Hart's sampler "Around the World for a Song" (1994 release). Check Mickey Hart's pages on the Deadheds' network.
Like all other Minnesota tribes, Mille Lacs has enjoyed the recent bounty of casino money, possible because of Native sovereignty. Mille Lacs owns 2 casinos, that are managed by Grand Casinos, Inc. The tribe distributes very little of the revenues realized. Casino money has made it possible to reduce unemployment virtually to nothing -- 3% compared to close to 30% for all the others. And this despite the fact that tribal members tend to be less highly educated (37% high school grads compared to more than 60% for the other tribes) than those of most other Minnesota tribes. This was accomplished through jobs in a variety of tribally-conducted beneficial programs, including a new school (intended to tackle the basic education problem). But as the Minnesota reservations map shows, Mille Lacs tribe is plagued by owning only a few small, widely scattered parcels of land. A major function of the casino revenues is increasing the tribal land base. But unlike isolated reservations, Mille Lacs is historically located on the shores of a huge lake, with good highways to the nearby Twin Cities metro area, in an area where virtually the only (white) local industry is tourism, fishing tourism. Unlike everywhere else, Mille Lacs area tourism really gets humming in the winter, when most -- except for skiing resorts -- close down.
Photographer-writer Ted Wood photographed this luxurious ice house, complete with TV antenna, and American and "party time" flags, one of some 8,000 winter fishing icehouses that form a city on Lake Mille Lacs when the bitter Minnesota winters freeze its waters to a sturdy surface 6 - 8 feet thick. The winter ice house city -- larger than any nearby town, until you get south to the Twin Cities urban area -- is inhabited by a variety of recreational fishermen who indulge in other recreations and parties in the more luxurious "4 to 32 holers" -- referring to the number of holes cut down through the icy floor to the deep, chilly water, in the event the non-Indian inhabitants wish to bother with any fishing. This peculiar phenomenon, the IceHouse Party City, seems to have attracted no anthros -- but Sports and feature writers love it.
But what it means for the Mille Lacs Band is that land values in the area are highly inflated by the very profitable year-round tourist industry. The ice house city represents a wide range of profitable activities for non-Indian tourist enterprises and for all local retail outlets. Most of the ice houses are owned and rented and emplaced on the ice, with electrical, fuel and food deliveries by large snow vehicle over almost 1,000 miles of snow-cleared roads the locals maintain over the lake ice. Where trendy Twin Cities ice-partying "fishermen" have constructed extremely luxurious ice houses they themselves own, the locals make money on storage rentals over the 9 month period when the lake's surface is water. Large fees are charged for emplacement, ice road maintenance, power, fuel, and food supplies -- and booze of course.
What all this adds up to is difficult and expensive land buy-backs for the tribe, where possible at all. Some band members have complained about the tribal policy of investing most casino revenues -- even though there are now jobs for all. They want more cash distributions, less invested in the future. This has become a political issue in elections of band officers.
Another Mille Lacs political issue: there are a number of Minnesota Ojibwe families who trace their direct ancestry to a band with deep roots -- some of the deepest -- in local Ojibwe history: Sandy Lake Band. The Sandy Lake parcel -- far to the north of the rest of the Mille Lacs land parcels -- is presently registered to Mille Lacs, as a part of its federally-recognized tribal land. Sandy Lake Band member families are living there now, as they have for hundreds of years, and there are old burial grounds there that members have taken direct action to protect against road builders and developers. Sandy Lake Band is petitioning the BIA to allow them independent existence as a Minnesota Ojibwe tribe on the same footing as others (many of whom are more recent occupants of present reservation locations.) They tell their story -- their history, their current set up for self-government, their struggles for federal recognition -- on their own web site.
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Text, maps and graphics copyright -- Paula Giese, 1996, 1997 except where elsewhere attributed.
CREDITS:I did the little map. Info comes mostly from American Indian Reservations and Trust Areas, U.S. Economic Development Administration, Department of Commerce, 1996. Veronica Velarde Tiller compiled this up to date information from tribal council sources for all tribes; same super-valuable info as she has in her book, advertised on her website. Other sources: Encyclopedia articles on Minnesota Ojibwes, Minnesota Indians publication of the league of Women voters, and tribal periodicals.Batiste Sam's beadwork model for the tile inlay comes from an old Minnesota Historical Society page on the museum, which is buried in an archive now. The casino logo comes from a page about Mille lacs posted by the Grand Casinos management company. Little Otter singers and the record sleeve are from Mickey Hart's pages on the Greatful Dead network. Ted Wood's icehouse photo is from the linked-to article by himself.
Last Updated: 1/19/97