The Lac du Flambeau Tribe
Many years ago, the ancient Native Americans of the Lac du Flambeau area came from the Big Salt Water in the East. Their migration was predicted to end where they found food that grew on water. This food they found was wild rice, which continues to be a staple in their diet. The Ojibwe name for this region was Waswagoning (Lake of the Torches), because fish were also abundant and harvested by the light of a flaming torch. The Lac du Flambeau reservation has 260 lakes, 65 miles of streams, lakes, and rivers and 24,000 acres of wetlands. The lakes and other waterways are regularly restocked by the tribal fish hatchery with over 200,000 fish per year. Over the last 30 years the tribal fish hatchery has restocked the lakes with well over 415 million walleye. All of this definitely shows the tribe’s attention to waterways and the sport and food provided by them. This area's habitation apparently began at least 9,000 years ago, as Indian hunting parties followed glacier withdrawals.
Some other ancestors of the Lac du Flambeau Band and other bands moved west from the Michigan area in the 17th century into the interior of Wisconsin west and south of Lake Superior. However, according to the Lac du Flambeau Band, they settled permanently in the area in 1745, led by their Chief Keeshkemun (Sharpened Stone) and Lac du Flambeau has remained a permanent settlement ever since. The area was then occupied by Dakota Indians. Lac du Flambeau was an area of large competition for its resources--particularly its vital wild-rice beds--as well as its great trade position that connected waterways between Lake Superior (via the Montreal River) and the Wisconsin and Flambeau rivers. The struggle began in 1737 and continued for nearly 150 years before the Chippewa pushed out the Dakota and the Fox tribes from the Wisconsin interior. The final battle between them took place on Strawberry Island in the lake. For centuries, the lake served as the trade and transportation hub for Native Americans and later colonial traders who used the lake and rivers to pass back and forth through their widespread system.
Natives also had to use the Flambeau Trail to portage from Lake Superior to the Lac du Flambeau District. This trail was 45 miles long, with 120 stops created along the path to give some breaks, an indication of the rough country. Inhabitants generally followed an annual migration cycle. In the early spring they would reside in sugar camps and then move to their planting grounds. Later in the year they would move to hunting along the shores of Lake Superior and sometimes to fishing areas, often at Madeline Island. Early in the fall they would usually move into the wild-rice beds and eventually move to harvest their plantations, gathering nuts and berries. Then, as the leaves began to fall, they found themselves canoeing down the rivers to hunt on the prairies, finally gathering together just before freezing time for winter camp. As signatories to the Treaty of St. Peters of 1837, and the Treaties of La Pointe of 1842 and 1854, members of the Lac du Flambeau Band still enjoy the traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices guaranteed in these treaties.
2. Colonial experience
The Lac du Flambeau tribe’s ancestors originated in Michigan, moving to western Wisconsin south of Lake Superior settling there permanently in 1745. Their Chief, Keeshkemun, aided in the defeat of the Dakota/Sioux who had previously settled the land, the last battle of which took place on Strawberry Island. French fur traders called them the “Torch Lake Men” (Waaswaaganininiwag) for their traditional practice of catching fish at night by torchlight. The Waaswaaganininiwag was a sub nation to the Gichigamiwininiwag, or Lake Superior Men and was the eastern group of the Biitan-akiing-enabijig, or Border Sitters. Centuries proved the area as a massive trading community seeing as it connected many waterways from Lake Superior to the Wisconsin and Flambeau rivers. Strawberry Island is considered a sacred island, home to spirits the tribe strives to keep it undeveloped.Recent discoveries find that artifacts on the island date back to 200 BC.
tAlthough he tribe keepshas attempted to keep Strawberry Island as untouched as possible as a marker of historical and cultural heritage, in the 20th century, the island was assigned to a specific tribe member in accordance with the Dawes Act. Upon his death a non-Native family purchased the island for summer camping and vacations. The tribe tried to purchase it for decades, however, the popular nature of lakefront property kept it out of the tribe’s reach until 2013 when they were able to purchase it back. The previous owners had communicated with the tribe and kept the land undeveloped.
Not all of the tribe's history was so simple. Removal policies in the 1850’s signed by President Taylor made annuity payments paid at Sandy Lake, Minnesota instead of the nearby La Pointe, Madeline Island. 300 men, women, and children set out for their new life and found no provisions at the end of their journey and many died in their attempt to return to their original Wisconsin homes. A total of 400 Native American were said to have died in this instance of the American government backhandedly attempting to disband and kill the resisting Native population. This event was later called the “Sandy Lake Tragedy.” Treaties officially established the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in 1837 and 1842, but the area was continually logged and became a tourist destination near the turn of the century. The tribe began bingo operations in light of this economic resource.
Via the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe, the Lac du Flambeau Band, or Waaswaaganing in Ojibwea, was formed from the bands at Pelican Lake, Turtle Portage, Trout Lake and Wisconsin River. As signers to the Treaty of St Peters of 1837, Treaty of La Pointe of 1842 and 1854, members of the Band continue to have rights to traditional hunting, fishing and gathering off of their reservation lands.
3. Contemporary developments or issues
Despite the hardships that the Lac du Flambeau faced in the past, they are a hard-working culture who is developing a stable and educational future for their tribe. Their mission, according to their official website, is “To provide leadership for the betterment of tribal membership and descendants in the areas of health, education, welfare, economic/job development and the protection of natural resources.” Not only are the Lac du Flambeau tribe organized in their development, they are also conscientious and have considered every possible need for their society. From education of the youths to the care of the elders, employment opportunities and protection of their natural resources, the Lac du Flambeau have a team working hard to satisfy the needs of everyone in their community.
If anyone is looking to begin or further their education, the Gikendaasowin Education & Workforce Development Center is the place to be. They provide numerous departments that cater to various needs of the community and help educate them about their culture. For the children, there is a Zaasijiwan Head Start program that provides full-day service, four days a week, and is a year-round program. It is federally funded and can serve up to ninety children. For those looking for higher education, the Gikendaasowin Education & Workforce Development Center provides help to enrolled Tribal Members who want to pursue technical diplomas, Associate degrees, Bachelor degrees, and graduate level degrees. Some of these programs may be too intensive for the everyday community member, but the Lac du Flambeau offers more flexible settings that teach simply the Ojibwe language to anyone who is willing to learn. They offer beginners and youths language classes at their Aabinoojiiyag Center, adult classes at the Wellness Center, and even have cassette tapes and manuals for those who cannot attend the scheduled sessions. Their well-rounded programs prove the dedication and pride the Lac du Flambeau have in their culture.
In addition to the programs they offer in their community, the Lac du Flambeau tribe also has a more traditional public school system. The system not only teaches the students fundamental educational material, but more importantly, inspires students to understand the essential aspects of their native heritage. A dedicated Ojibwe Language and Culture Teacher, Wayne Valliere, prepared an Ojibwe Winter Games for his students. He handcrafted all the artifacts and built the props used in traditional Ojibwe games. Dedicated teachers such as Wayne Valliere not only carry on the culture of the tribe, but weave fun into learning to hold the interest of the youths in the community.
Educating their community is only part of the goal for the Lac du Flambeau tribe. Besides education, they have also developed an intricate group of services that offer child support, family support, and economic support. They are also mindful of troubles that could be occurring at home and have thus provided a domestic abuse program that the community can utilize. In addition, the tribe also provides services for the elders of the community. These services include transportation, counseling for veterans and people with long-term disabilities, as well as general activities.
The Lac du Flambeau tribe also works to provide an updated list of job opportunities for those in the community. The site is complete with an online application form as well as job opportunities outside of the community in places such as the Lake of Torches Resort Casino and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.
The dedication that the Lac du Flambeau tribe have for their culture is what drives them to preserve it and educate the public about it. No matter what hardships they faced in the past, they have worked hard to overcome them. Now, they have an organized, well-rounded, and thriving community that continues to carry on their ancient heritage.
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