And we’re off! To the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, AKA The Estuarium, located on the The St. Louis River Estuary, the largest estuary on the Great Lakes. We were treated to a fascinating presentation by Karen Diver, former chairwoman of the Fond du Lac band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, former adviser to President Barack Obama on Native Affairs, and currently a faculty fellow at St. Scholastica in Duluth. Her presentation included the checkered history of the relationship between the tribes and the U.S. government, including how treaties continue to impact the abilities of native people to interact with the land and resources in their traditional ways.
After her talk we had a bit of time to peruse the delightful museum at the Estuarium, directed by Deanna Erickson. One fascinating hands-on exhibit included a pair of beaters, push pole, and birch bark basket, the traditional tools used to harvest manoomin (wild rice) for centuries. The beaters were incredibly light, being made from cedar, which Bob Danielson informed us is important, given the strenuousness of spending all day ricing, which he experienced on the lakes of the Fond du Lac reservation.
We were hurried back aboard the bus to travel to the Bad River Fish Hatchery, on the Kakagon River. Edith Leolo gave a brief overview of the mission and workings of the hatchery, including some impressive stats: 12.6 million walleye fry were released in 2019! Next up was a real treat! We boarded three jon boats and explored the manoomin sloughs of the Kakagon River, encompassing over 18,000 acres of the Bad River Reservation. Perry’s boat discussed our favorite ways to prepare wild rice, and Christina promised to share her favorite recipe with us! On Clare’s boat, we learned more from Edith Leolo about the manoomin beds, their managements, and how they are impacted by rising water levels and invasive species. We spotted a few eagles, and an active eyrie.
Next up was a visit to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission where we heard from Jonathan Gilbert, Director of Biological Services. We talked a lot about treaty rights, and how they relate to hunting, fishing and gathering in the ceded territories, the unique situation on Mille Lacs Lake which has experienced a crash in the walleye population, due to zebra mussel filtering of zooplankton, as well as rising temperatures. One fascinating point that Jonathan made was that in the working document careful wording is used to refer to the biota as species/ beings in recognition of indigenous beliefs and practices.
Paula Maday, Education and Outreach for Public Information with GLIFWC explained her role, and shared a plethora of resources involving issues related treaty rights and traditional harvest practices. She engaged us with a Kahoot! interactive quiz which got our competitive juices flowing. Perry won!
It was an incredible day. We were astounded by the impact of Lake Superior and the long history of indigenous people’s struggle to sustainably live along her shores. We were moved by the generosity of the elders and experts who shared their time, knowledge and
resources. Migwech, all! We ended exhilarated and exhausted, hoping to get a decent night’s sleep before we board the bus at 6 AM.
Clare Seguin and Perry Smith