The Mole Lake area boasts hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, as well as hiking and mountain biking trails, ATV trails and cross country ski trails. There are over 800 lakes, 82 trout streams, and 400,000 acres of public wilderness land teeming with wild life. If you are looking for bald eagles, they are easy to spot soaring above the village of Mole Lake and nearby lakes and streams.
Gift of the Harvest
on the Sokaogon Mole Lake Band of the
Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation
by Richard D. Ackley, Jr.
I steady our small canoe (jiiman), keeping my left foot in and my right foot out, as my cousin climbs aboard. We are on the banks of the eastern edge of Rice Lake, within the boundaries of the Sokaogon Chippewa Indian reservation, in northeast Wisconsin. Our Rice Chiefs have officially declared this lake ready to harvest. It is early September and the morning sky provides a dazzling blue canopy, as an inducement to proceed. The sun is as intense as it can be for this latitude and the air is a seventy degrees.
My partner carefully makes his way down the center of the wobbly canoe. Holding onto the gunwale, he readily reaches the opposite end; turns facing me saying, "Mii-gwech!" (Thank you) and then sits down.
As I step into the unstable canoe, performing a balancing act, I remark, "Looks like it’s gonna be a beautiful day for picking rice!"
I crouch down and grab onto a long and sturdy balsam wood push-pole, then immediately ease it out over the right side of the canoe and into the water. My ricing partner attempts to steady the boat a bit, as I promptly stand erect and implant the long skinny pole, with its fork-shape attachment at the end, into the thick rich mud of the shallow lake bottom.
Eagerly pushing our craft away from the bank, I ask, "Are you ready?"
Just then, a surprised Blue Heron, gives a piercing cry as it flaps its wings and graciously maneuvers itself out of our way.
"A good sign" I reason, "...yes, a good sign for a member of the Crane clan".
In September, at the time of the wild rice moon "Manoominigiizis", lakes teem with a harvest crop enabling us to perpetuate our legacy. The flavorful green seeds of the wild rice plant, are more commonly known in the Ojibwa language as "manoomin" or "mano om in", meaning "the food that grows on the water". We are anxious to knock off hundreds of pounds to fill our canoe. The wild rice harvest is always a welcomed activity, occurring late in the summer and carried out in a time-honored traditional way, by Anishinaabeg (Ojibwa) men and women. It is a profound and historic relationship between man and nature.
As we move toward our objective, we anticipate the task and proceed deep into the bounty of the dense growth cloaking the lake. Without warning, a flock of Red-Wing Blackbirds descend upon our path like a squad of Japanese bombers over Pearl Harbor, then quickly scatter in all directions. Within moments we vanish; fused amongst a tall green curtain of vegetation.
This brief journey, a journey which our ancestors had taken for thousands of years, fosters credence to our Ojibwa (Chippewa) heritage and culture. Long before the Europeans had knowledge of the existence of this continent and long before the French explorer Jean Nicolet landed on the eastern shores of northern Wisconsin in 1634; the Ojibwa of the Sokaogon (the post in the lake people) routinely gathered this important indigenous food source, which continues to proliferate here.
The wild rice plant is more commonly referred to, by biologists, as Zizania Aquatica. It thrives exclusively in the peculiar stillness of this approximately 320 acre mineral-rich lake. This is a very special place, although today, hardly visible just a few hundred feet from the main highway. An eye-level view across this lake, reveals a sight which resembles a field of wheat. Actually, it appears as if it could be little more than a wetlands area, even a swamp, but so far Mother Nature has not allowed that to occur and probably never will. Equally significant is that this continues to be a prime example, of one of the last remaining ancient wild rice beds of northern Wisconsin.
What survives here is a perfect, undisturbed setting, in which a delicate ecosystem of a countless mix of insect species, plants and animals successfully co-exist.
This very small and virtually unmolested world, contains the ingredients for a perfect recipe, of an orderly combination of consistent water level and temperature, allowing the precious manoomin to survive the eons of time. Manoomin is a sensitive plant and does not tolerate chemical pollutants or drastic changes in water level very well during its growth cycle. One can also say that what flourishes here, is the proverbial bread basket for a culture of people.
Wild rice has always been a staple for the Chippewa diet and this pre-historic vegetation is most likely considered, the oldest agricultural crop in the nation. Scientists have determined that wild rice is the only "naturally occurring" grain in North America. Oats, wheat and barley for example, were imported from Europe.
Working the Rice Domain
With two persons working together as ricing partners, one person must constantly push the craft forward while the other gently knocks the seed loose from the top of the plant; taking care that it falls into the boat. This requires the use of a pair of small ricing sticks or rice knockers (bawaiganaak), both of which are handmade from lightweight cedar branches. These slender tools resemble a pair of rather long drum sticks.
With the aide of my push pole I continue moving us slowly forward. A curious turtle, a few feet away, pops his head above the surface to survey his surroundings. My partner continues to harvest, gently sweeping the sticks from left to right and moving the sticks back and forth over the slender stalks of the rice plant. Using one stick, he gently bends the top of a group of several individual plants, all at once, directly over the center of the boat. He then gives a swift but equally gentle tap with the other stick, followed by a quick brushing motion across the tips. Immediately, a few dozen or so of the ripened two-inch-long seeds break free and fall. The staff of the long plants are then released and allowed to freely spring back into position, bringing no harm to the vegetation. The gentle swishing action produces a remarkably rhythmic sound; smooth and precise, this alternating action is repeated hundreds and hundreds of times.
There is a soothing quality to this repetitive sound, integrated into the stillness of our environment. We become, for a brief moment, immersed in a time warp of absolute harmony with nature. Momentarily our attention is drawn toward a flock of very determined Canada geese, passing low over head. The assertiveness of their honking seems to declare, "Good Bye, until next year!" My cousin immediately shouts out to them, "Boozhoo" (hello)! The richness of the total experience transpires in perfect sequence; almost as if pre-planned for insertion into the pages of a National Geographic magazine.
As the hours pass, the small vessel finally becomes a bit unsteady and greatly weighted near capacity with the heavy concentration of green rice.
"Ok, it looks like we’ve got more than enough!" my partner exclaims. The real trick in returning to shore, without unintentionally dumping the unstable cargo, requires a bit of skill and thoughtful patience. Soon we arrive back to the point where we had earlier embarked. I push our unwieldy craft hard against the soft mud of the bank. Bracing the canoe as best I can with my pole, my partner steps out onto solid ground. He then grabs onto the bow and begins to pull as I continue to push.
A portion of the canoe is now up on land, allowing for better stability as I step out along side the craft and into a foot or so of surprisingly warm water.
The Next Phases
The act of gathering the wild rice, on this somewhat humble lake, is only the first phase of an entire process. Some of the green rice is set aside for re-seeding purposes. Some will be purchased by the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission for study and for re-seeding activities on other lakes as well. Before the rice can actually be consumed, however, a relatively slow and conscientious operation must be completed.
First, the wild rice is spread out onto a tarp and air dried in the sun. Next it must be parched or scorched beside an open fire to thoroughly remove any remaining moisture. If not it will certainly mold while in storage. This is accomplished with the use of a broad wooden paddle and metal pan. A few pounds are transferred into a large galvanized metal pan, propped up next to a crackling fire. As the pan quickly heats, the seeds are stirred continuously with the paddle to a point, where a few of the seeds begin to pop open, just like pop corn. The batch of rice is immediately removed from the heat and after it has cooled, is ready to be "danced".
Dancing the rice, is a procedure which requires the agility of a person of light-weight build. The batch is poured into a shallow hole in the ground, lined with a tanned deer hide, wide enough to step into with both feet. Dancing the rice requires that the dancer, wearing soft buckskin moccasins, step lightly into the hole. He or she positions a tripod made of cedar poles, next to the hole in which to hold onto and support the body weight. The dancer then steps or walks lightly "in place" using care, while working the feet in a slow, heel-to-toe style motion. This action causes the thin outer husk to break and separate from the edible seed.
Next, a pound or so is scooped up into a wide and shallow basket (fanning basket) made of birch bark without handles, so that it can be "fanned" (also called "winnowed") to further purify the edible seed. The small amount of rice in the basket is tossed briskly, like a salad, for a while. As the contents go up and down, again and again, the air catches and removes much of the remaining bits of dried husk. Lastly, a thorough cleaning by hand, to remove any small bits of remaining husk, improves the purity of the product before it is packaged and included into the food pantry of local families. Some is also set aside to be packaged and purchased by anxious consumers, who have long savored the flavor of our rice as a delicacy on Thanksgiving Day and who recognize the benefits of a healthy diet.
What all of this really means, is that a natural, chemical free, self-sustaining nutritious food will again be available for us to enjoy, just as it has in the past.
The particular nourishment and flavor of Sokaogon wild rice is a welcome addition to the dinner table, especially on those all too numerous sub-zero January days. Wild rice is a pleasurable compliment to a myriad of meals, served either as a side dish, or part of a salad or added to stuffing or included in a variety of soups. A special favorite of course, is wild rice soup.
It is very important to understand however, that our rice is not the same as the wild rice you may happen to find in a retail grocery store. The rice you find in a store is most probably either "paddy rice" or river rice, which has been commercially grown, mechanically harvested and processed by heated air and packaged for mass distribution. Our rice, as with all authentic Native American harvested wild rice, is in limited supply; both labeled and sold at a higher price than commercial rice. It is important to note that Sokaogon Chippewa wild rice grows naturally and is processed in a traditional Indian way, going back countless centuries, if not thousands of years.
Shortly after the wild rice is stored away, the cool Wisconsin nights of mid-October (binaakwii-giizis) induce a delightfully enigmatic fog upon the lake. Soon, the first snowfall of early November, sends the brief deer hunting season into full swing and if luck may have its way, just might engender a glimpse of the ephemeral aurora borealis (northern lights). The penetrating air, intruding from the north soon gains control of an overly obedient landscape. The surface water begins to freeze, (gashkadino-giizis) and the lake surrenders itself to a well deserved diversion of rest and rejuvenation. The local hunters delight in the fact that the deer of course, are preoccupied by a short lived yet, fervent mating season. The cycle of life triumphs. As Winter (Biboon) finally takes full command, it is a time to reflect on the dreamy days of the harvest and anticipate the next. Once again the fruits of our labor are ensured into yet another year.
The gray days of Winter give rise to laughter and warm conversation across a table setting of taste tempting venison tenderloin with mushroom gravy, along with hearty egg noodles, corn and sumptuous Indian style "fry bread" topped with syrup and peanut butter. And last but not least, a simmering scoop of freshly prepared Sokaogon wild rice achieves its rightful place on the dinner plate.
A Sacred Activity
The annual harvesting of the green wild rice seed is a sacred and vital activity and will ensure that our unique culture and heritage, will endure, against the influences of industrialization.
This modest plant, guided by the whims of Mother nature, also played a timely and crucial role, in the defeat of a multi-national mining conglomerate’s intent of opening a metallic-sulfide mining operation, adjacent this pristine and vulnerable landscape. Plans for the Crandon mine began in the early 1970s. This 30-year controversy came to a dramatic end in 200 3, as the Sokaogon took ownership of the assets of Exxon’s Nicolet Minerals Company. Mining would surely have already occurred here, had this area not been recognized for its ancient wild rice bed and headwaters of the Wolf River watershed. It is a place critical to the traditional subsistence activities surrounding the culture and religious beliefs of a people who have always remained stewards of the earth.
No one knows exactly the full impact of what sulfide mining, and the use of cyanide for processing the ore, would have caused this area. However, the toxic by-products certainly would have had far reaching negative impacts on the fragile ecosystem. The degradation of an irreplaceable and highly complex system of natural underground aquifers, in exchange for a temporary access to copper and zinc, would have proved an incomprehensible and reckless crime against the consciousness of humanity. Although the possibility of mining could re-surface again in the future, our accountability to the land remains paramount.
The harvest is a time for us to remember our ancestors, who passed their knowledge down to us. It helps renew the mind, the body and the spirit as an important part of cultural seasonal activities. It is meaningful because it is a time of transition from the old to the new. It is also a special time to give thanks to our Creator for this priceless gift of food.
We honor Mother Earth called ‘’Aki " in the Ojibwa language, as well as the water, "NiBi", for providing us a place to gather the manoomin.
The food that grows on the water is ground zero for this tiny Native American community and its compelling story of survival, which continues into the twenty-first century.
Our Sokaogon ancestors held fast to this land, refusing to give it up during the fierce Battle of Mole Lake in 1806, resulting in the death of some 500 warriors. After Wisconsin gained its statehood in 1848, our ancestors stood firm against the threats of Zachary Taylor’s 1850 Presidential Removal Order; an attempt to have the Wisconsin Chippewa removed from their traditional rice beds and sugar maple orchards. Our ancestors survived the US government’s endeavor in the early 1900s of removing the youth from their villages and homes and into government boarding schools; and its failed attempt at forcing them to forget their Ojibwa language, traditions and culture and to assimilate into the general society. Our grandparents successfully petitioned the Federal Government following the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and finally gained permanent deed to this small piece of unspoiled land in Forest County, in 1937.
Even as late as the 1980s, racism proliferated in northern Wisconsin, during the Anti-Indian Movement. For a brief time, attempts by specialized groups of individuals driven by racism and hostility, tried but failed to abolish the long-standing Chippewa treaty rights of harvesting fish, each spring, on ceded lands. At the beginning of the new millennium, Wisconsin’s then acting governor denied the Sokaogon a chance at expanding its pursuit of economic self-sufficiency, vital to the future of this community. But as in the past, the stalwart Sokaogon shall remain steadfast, in concert with the timeless endurance of the wild rice.
Wild rice will always link the past to the present for the Sokaogon Mole Lake Band of Ojibwa. It is a food that we use almost daily and is a centerpiece of traditional and cultural perseverance.
The harvest is truly a gift.
And it remains the incessant reminder of why we, the Sokaogon Chippewa, have chosen to make this place our home.
Wild Rice Harvest
Article by Olive Glasgo
In the autumn of the year, when squirrels are busy clipping cones from the conifers and farmers are shucking corn, the Indians make their annual treks to the brackish waters of the northwoods to harvest the oldest agricultural crop in the nation.
Historic Rice Lake
Disturbing raucous flocks of feasting blackbirds, the Chippewa of Forest County glide like ghosts through the early morning mists plying their shallow boats through 'the waving sea of grain that flourishes on Rice Lake. Following in the age-old custom of their ancestors, they glean the wild grain, formerly. so vital to the survival of their forefathers.
As they progress great northern pike leap to snap flies hovering over the water and slapping the surface as they submerge, they appear to be piloting the advancing fleet. The rice beds teem with wildlife. Muskrats, dining on tender shoots of the plants, dive off their feeding stations and black-billed coot, gabbling in alarm, skitter across the open channels of water while mallards break migrant flight patterns in the sky above, arrowing into a bay of the lake, all in competition for a share of the prized seeds of this wild water grass, known as Zizania Aquatica.
It is the magic time of the harvest moon and as the mists evaporate, gay halloos echo across the sun drenched lake as members of the Sokaogon band recognize friends and relatives who have converged on the village of the Chippewa to participate in the harvest. This homecoming makes autumn a festive as well as a productive period of the year and creates nostalgic memories for elders of the band.
Many recall seeing Chief Ackley conduct the customary rituals, standing on the bank of Swamp Creek. Before the canoes were launched in the channel he would scatter bits of sacred tobacco to the four winds petitioning the Great Spirit for a bountiful harvest.
"A bumper crop was always ample cause for rejoicing," his son Chuck recalls. "And, the thanksgiving feast and harvest dance was generally the greatest highlight of the year. We roasted ducks, fattened in the grain fields with steaming heaps of rice and our hunters always made sure we had plenty meat on hand including rabbits, beaver, bear as well as venison and fish."
Chuck Ackley's wife, Naomi, recalls her late mother's accounts of the early festivities. Mary VanZile told Naomi how much the people always looked forward to the gathering of the clans each fall. "We always wore our best clothes for these socials and in those days, when I was young, the most favored garments were still fashioned from buckskin. Every article was lavishly decorated with special designs worked into the material with colorful beads, ribbons and porcupine quills. Some of the women and girls however, settled for clothing made from bolts of material purchased from the fur traders. I can still remember my favorite dress. I don't remember just how I got it, but since I helped my grandfather trap, he probably traded pelts for it at the trading post. Anyway, it had ribbon sewed down the front of the blouse and all around the bottom of the ankle length skirt. The beating of the drums, the dancing and chanting remain fresher in my mind than the events of yesterday."
The colorful pageantry of such traditions have slowly drifted into the past along-with the smoke of ancient campfires but Indians still harvest the bulk of this natural resource.
The range of wild rice stretches from Manitoba to Florida but the most prolific, stands are located in the Great Lake States of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. A good slough yields more than 50 bushels per acre.
Wild rice has always been considered a pretty unpredictable crop since it can be adversely affected by frost, high water and storms. it is known that the seed can lie dormant for as long as five years awaiting ideal conditions to germinate and send its tender shoots up through the muck. The flowering stalks wave like tassels in the breeze. The monoecious plant possesses unisexual flowers on the same stalk and pollination occurs over a period of several weeks. The uneven blooming assures cross pollination. The pistillate blossom is located at the top of the inflorescence and blooms first permitting the stigmas to be fertilized by the pollen of an adjacent stalk before the staminate flowers, set lower in the leaves, open to disperse their fertile grains.
The crops are as uneven as the blooming. Rice beds studied by researchers appear to undergo a four year cycle. According to their reports, a bumper crop is generally followed by three years of successively lower yields. In addition to damage from storms, the plants are subject to infestations of insects and disease but a complete crop failure is generally attributed to a change in water level. The crops thrive best in the muck of shallow waterways where the level of water remains from 2 to 3 feet deep.
Wisconsin has 70 major rice fields in 13 northern counties. The grain usually begins to ripen in sections of the Wolf and Wisconsin before the lakes are ready to be harvested.
I The grain fields were formerly so luxuriant that they posed navigational problems for early explorers. Under optimum conditions the stalks rise as high as 7 feet above the water so it is scant wonder that the danger of becoming lost in this maze prompted Father Marquette to hire native guides.
Reporting on his expedition with Joliet in 1673, Father Marquette wrote, "The road is so broken by so many swamps and small lakes that it is easy to lose ones way, especially as the River Thither (they were seeking the mouth of the Wisconsin River) is so full of wild oats that it is difficult to find the channel. For that reason we needed to hire guides." After helping with the portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin. River, Father Marquette added, "The Indians departed, leaving us alone in the unknown country in the hands of providence."
Many of the voyageurs that followed considered it providential that the Indians harvested and processed the seeds of this wild grain which the French called "Folle Avoines".
Long a staple part of the natives' diet the value of wild rice, richer in riboflavin than corn, oats or rye, was enhanced by the fact that the flinty kernels were virtually non-perishable. Thus the grain could be stored as a form of insurance against the threat of famine during severe winters when blizzards hampered the hunt for game. Prudent natives carefully packed the dark kernels along with supplies of sugar in leather mokuks and tightly woven basswood baskets and customarily cached such provisions in underground storage pits located at strategic spots along their traditional hunting and trading routes.
With the opening of the fur trade wild rice became a valuable item of barter and the extent of white reliance on Indian supplies of this nourishing food is graphically documented in the journals of early traders, explorers and missionaries. These forerunners of civilization could only carry limited supplies and when their provisions ran out the extension of their journey and often their very lives depended on their ,ability to obtain grain from the natives.
One illustration was supplied by Alexander Henry in 1775. Venturing into the Northwest Territory for the, Indian trade he stated, "The voyage could not have been prosecuted to completion without the supply of rice obtained from the Indians."
David Thompson, a famous explorer of the late 1700s also mentioned how essential the food was to the fur traders when he wrote of a wintering partner in the North West Company "Mr. Sawyer and his men passed the whole winter on wild rice and maple sugar which keeps them alive but in poor flesh."
Since the Indians had to rely on the bounty of nature the elementary problem of subsistence was an ever-present concern. Consequently territory including prolific wild rice bearing lakes sparked many inter-Tribal wars.
One of the greatest and most conclusive conflicts, according to Indian legend, occurred in the summer encampment of the Sokaogon band of Chippewa at Mole Lake in 1806. Remnants of the Lost Tribe of Chippewa still dwell on the historic battlefield where their forefathers vanquished the Sioux. It was a costly victory.
According to the historic marker in Mole Lake, based on stories handed down from one generation to the next, around 500 warriors were slain.
While their ancestors had been successful in defending their territory from the Sioux the band didn't fare as well when it came to dealing with the U.S. government, since they failed to receive the 12 square mile reservation promised by representatives of the 1854 Treaty on Madeline Island. It wasn't until 1934 that the government purchased approximately 1,700 acres for the tribe and this failed to include all the land around Rice Lake which had long provided their people with the veritable "Staff of Life."
This large body of water contains the most prolific rice fields in Forest County and each fall the people continue to harvest the grain formerly so vital to their ancestors. The techniques have altered little since. Shallow boats have replaced the bark canoes but tapered homemade batons are still used to flail the grain. The pilot, standing in the stern of the craft, propels the boat through the water with the aid of a long forked pole while his partner sits on a low seat to harvest the grain. An experienced beater works with a steady rhythm using one rod to sweep the sheaves over the gunwale utilizing deft taps with the other to send the ripe kernels cascading into the bottom of the boat.
Most of the green rice is sold to buyers waiting at the landing. Some member of the band continue to process their precious cargo despite the fact that it is a time-consuming project. The grain has to be dried in the sun and then roasted, constantly stirred over an outdoor fire to prevent scorching. Then it is ready for the dancing.
This was formerly done in skin-lined pits and archeologist were excited to discover prehistoric pits situated not far away on the shores of Bass Lake.
This kind of site has never before been discovered according to David Overstreet, Chief Investigator for the Great Lakes Archeological Research Center. The pristine site was discovered in 1983 and was radiocarbon dated from burnt remains nearby to around 800-1200 A.D. Now days, the dancing, which separates the kernels from the husks is done generally in buckets or tubs and accomplished by circular motions of fresh moccasin clad feet.
Then the grain is ready for the final step. The rice is placed, as of old, in shallow birch bark baskets for fanning. The grain is flipped in the air so the breeze will carry off the chaff and the grain is then ready for use or storage.
Once the rice has been picked from Rice Lake, parched over an open fire and danced upon by foot to break away the outer hull, it is painstakingly cleaned by hand ... a process thousands of years old continues to this day at Mole Lake by the Sokaogon Chippewa.
The Sokaogon Ojibwe: A Comprehensive Summary
by Richard D. Ackley, Jr
We, the American Indians and Alaska Natives, are the original inhabitants of America. Our land once was a vast stretch of forest, plains, and mountains extending from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. In many American Indian and Alaska Native lands across the country, we still hunt, fish, and gather from the land, rivers, and seas, much as we have for thousands of years.
Our long and proud heritage continues in our many traditional foods, medicines, and names all Americans use. We have survived numerous disruptions of our lives and dislocations from our native habitats. Today, while still maintaining our Tribal traditions and languages, we strive to accept new technologies which address our needs.
-US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration 9/1993
The Mole Lake Anishinabe (Chippewa) settled in the northern regions of Wisconsin, having moved out of eastern Canada at least a 1,000 years ago.
“According to the teachings of the Ojibwe people, also known as
the Chippewa or Anishinabe, it was the sacred Megis Shell that first guided the people to the rich regions of the Great Lakes.
The Megis Shell was last seen near Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, which was one of the settling points
for Tribal people migrating from the eastern shores of the continent.“
- ”Mazina’igan A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe” Fall 2005
Living near the upper Great Lakes region, they kept the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands sold to the U.S. Government in the mid 1800's. The agreements they made are called treaties. Treaties are legally binding agreements made between two nations, in this case the United States and the Chippewa Tribe. Today, the rights kept by the Chippewa are referred to as treaty rights. Treaty rights were never sold by the Chippewa, nor were they granted or given by the federal government. The Chippewa kept the right to obtain food and other necessities on ceded lands in order to be sure future generations would always have a source of food and survival. In legal words, Chippewa treaty rights are called usufructuary rights, which means the right to use property. Treaties are recognized in the U.S. Constitution as being the “supreme law of the land.” They are legally binding agreements and have always been respected within the framework of federal law.(1)
The Sokaogon Mole Lake band of the Lake Superior Chippewa reside on the Mole Lake Indian reservation next to Rice Lake, (zaaga-i’-gan manoomin) in Forest County, in northeast Wisconsin. It was recorded that some 500 Indian warriors died during the 1806 Battle of Mole Lake. The battle between the Chippewa and the Sioux was fought over the wild rice bed that exists here. The Ojibway refer to wild rice as “manoomin” meaning the food that grows on the water. Wild rice has always been a staple of the Chippewa diet and is still harvested and processed today, in the traditional way.
The last major “treaty” signed by the Sokaogon Chippewa was in 1855. There is not a consistent tracing of the Sokaogon Chippewa in terms of the Treaty of 1854 and the United States. Sokaogon Chippewa are difficult to trace because of a number of “official” names by which the Sokaogon Chippewa (Mole Lake) Band were known.
1. A Guide to Understanding Chippewa Treaty Rights, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission, July 1994.
Also, another band of Chippewa originate elsewhere with a similar name during this period. The Sokaogon Chippewa are virtually “lost” in official annual reports between 1862-1899. Second, the records of the Sokaogon Chippewa are difficult to trace between 1854 to 1906 in official files largely due to written actions by successive Indian Agents and; third, Sokaogon Chippewa signatories to the 1854 Treaty were not accurately geographically located.(2)
From 1836 to 1854, four land cession treaties were signed between the United States Government and the Ojibwe tribes living in a vast area around Lake Superior that later became the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In return for their land, the Ojibwe reserved the right to hunt, fish, and gather throughout the ceded territories, including Lake Superior. (3)
2. Lake Superior Treaty Sokaogon Chippewa 18854, Donald B. Murdock 1972
3. Mazina’igan A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, Fall 2005
Willard LeRoy Ackley was born in England in 1818, and was the first white settler in Wisconsin’s Langlade County. Little is known of his boyhood days except that he was a venturesome lad, who was lured to the Western states by the stories of adventure among the Indian tribes and fur traders of the great northern wilderness. He came west to Wausau where he stopped for a time before definitely settling in Ackley Township, Langlade County in Section 27 and 28 T31NR10E where the West Branch and East Branch of the Eau Claire River merge together. This was the year 1850. He built a log cabin and trading post and homesteaded in Section 28. Part of the land is now the Riverview Golf Course,(west of Antigo). He also had a logging camp which appears along with the cabin site on the government survey maps made by James Marsh in 1851 and re-establishment was designated by J.C. Fellows in June 1859.
The logging camp was located in N ½ of N.W. 1/4 of Section 22 near the Galuska farm. Some men made it their trade to drive logs down the river. With his camp crew egging him to marry, as his cooking was “something else to be desired”, he decided to take a bride. The Sokaogon Chippewa Indian tribe stopped at Ackley’s Trading Post every Spring on their way to Post Lake. Ackley walked to Post Lake to choose his Indian bride. He chose Me-Da-Gee-Wa-No-Quay “Maiden of the forest”. A Chippewa Indian daughter of the Chief Mee-gee-see known as Great Eagle. The two of them walked to Wausau where they were married by a Justice of the Peace and then went back to the cabin on the Eau Claire River. It was at this time he changed his name from Acly to Ackley as his family strongly opposed the marriage to an Indian woman. He had relation in the eastern U.S.A. This marriage must have taken place in 1853-1854 as their first son was born in 1855. She was about 16 years Willard’s senior. Mrs. Willard Ackley (Mary) they called her had been married before to an Indian runner of her father’s. A runner job was something like that of a scout.
These men were sent ahead to find places for the tribe to move and look out for danger. Mary’s first husband died during one of these runs. She and her first husband had two children, a boy and a girl. The daughter Sarah was married to John Hogarty who had a trading post at Hogarty. The son, Missabe or (Mesabe) was adopted by Willard Ackley and bore the name of Ed Ackley. The Ackleys were very good to the early pioneers. Many stayed with them until their homes were built. Ackley had some equipment for raising hogs and very willingly helped all his neighbors. He was often ridiculed for his kindness by those he helped. My father “Orvis Vaughan” who was raised close to the Ackleys wrote: Willard Ackley was a prince among men. If I ever met a better man than Ackley I don’t know it to this day. He gave of what he had to all that asked and a great many never paid. The first settlers above the forks of the Eau Claire couldn’t raise a barn or house without Ackley or his ropes or both, and most of them thought they were better than he was.(4)
4. The Antigo Daily Journal/Journal Express Times, Laverne (Vaughan Rasmussen Langlade Co Dept on Aging
In 1854, representatives from the Mole Lake Band attended a treaty council on Madeline Island between the Chippewa Nation and representatives of the United States. The federal government agreed to provide several Chippewa bands with cash, equipment, and their traditional land base. The following year, the Indian commissioner denied having met with the Mole Lake Band during that treaty council, and the promises were not kept.(5)
Willard L. Ackley, grandson of Willard LeRoy (Acly) Ackley was born on Christmas Day in 1885, at Bishop Lake near Crandon. He was named after his grandfather Willard LeRoy Ackley. Willard attended a government-run boarding school near Tomah, WI. In 1909 he went to work in a logging camp in Odanah, WI, near the Bad River Chippewa. He returned to the Crandon area in 1917 and learned the carpenter trade. His first wife Sadie died and he then married Dora Johnny, rearing his son Charles. When Willard moved back to Mole Lake in 1917 he was visited by the older members of the Tribal community and they told him about the “lost” document. The original document which promised the Sokaogon people a 12-square-mile reservation was in the possession of a government agent as he carried it back to Washington DC. Unfortunately the ship on which he traveled, went down in a tragic accident on Lake Superior all aboard were lost. The only copy was in the possession of a trusted fur trader who acquired it from the Sokaogon as a form of collateral for some various debts. Later the fur trader became ill and gave it to some unknown man who had been caring for him, who also later died. The copy has not been recovered to this day.
Willard was officially recognized as Chief of the Sokaogon Band in 1929. He met with John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was instrumental in establishing the current reservation starting with approximately 1700 acres in 1934. Chief Ackley was asked by the US government where he wanted to locate his reservation. After consulting with his Tribal Elders, a spot was selected adjacent to Mole Lake and including Rice Lake, Forest County Wisconsin. His first job was obtaining information about treaties. After that he made many trips to meet with government agents and finally traveled to Duluth, MN to hire an attorney to press the tribe’s claim for a reservation status. This took place during the Great Depression at a time when money was scarce. Chief Ackley sold deer hides and beadwork and also helped to care for many of the children around Mole Lake. He is credited with bringing electricity to Mole Lake in 1948 and running water in 1963. Simply referred to by everyone as “Uncle Willard”, he was dedicated throughout his life to this community.
5. Tiller’s Guide To Indian Country , Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations, BowArrow Publishing Company, Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
He died at age 84 in 1969 at his residence, an old shack on the west side of Hwy 55 in Mole Lake. Before the reservation was formally approved following the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Sokaogon had always lived in the vicinity near Rice Lake without the benefit of any form of Tribal government, other than the ability to hold council meetings. The Sokaogon are known as the “post in the lake” people. The 1930 Census revealed a total population of 212 people. In 1968 the Sokaogon received additional lands which brought the reservation size to just under 2,000 acres.
Starting in the 1970s and continuing through today, Tribal members and Tribal governments began challenging the authority of the states to apply their resource regulations against Tribal members hunting on ceded lands and fishing in ceded waters, both inland and in Lake Superior. In a series of federal and state court decisions, the treaty-reserved rights of the Ojibwe were reaffirmed in Wisconsin with the 1972 Gurnoe and the 1983 Voigt decisions.
The US Census 2000 statistics show a population of 392 on the Mole Lake reservation with a total of 165 housing units. The Sokaogon Band of Chippewa currently has 1261 enrolled members with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, nationwide.
Although the Sokaogon continue to gather cultural resources in the traditional way and harvest wild rice, and utilize both State and Federal program grants, the thrust of the current economic growth comes directly from Indian Gaming. When Congress enacted the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Sokaogon moved forward to establish a Class III gaming venue in mid 1991. A modest bingo operation had been operating since the 1970s. Since 1991, economic development has included a motel, a gas station/ convenience store, an expanded gaming operation, an upgraded and remodeled Class II high stakes bingo, snack bar and a full service restaurant for fine dining.
The future includes a new hotel attached to the casino, a new youth center near the current elderly center, the rehabilitation and preservation of the log cabin, now listed on the National Register of Historic Properties and a museum and trading post near the cabin.
History of the Sokaogon Chippewa, Mole Lake Band
The term "Lost Tribes" was applied to two groups of Chippewa Indians whose status within the Chippewa tribe had never been officially determined prior to 1938. Identified as the Mole Lake and St. Croix bands, these Chippewa Indians now live on reservations.
Under provisions of the 1934 Reorganization Act, 1,745 acres of land were purchased for the Mole Lake "Lost Tribe." This area lies in southwestern Forest County, near Crandon, Wisconsin. On this reservation, in 1938, lived 106 Chippewa, of whom 18 were full bloods. The number of un-enrolled Chippewa was estimated at 200.
In 1930, a roll was taken of the "Lost Tribe" in the Mole Lake area in order to determine if these Indians could be identified with existing reservation Indians. The census showed a total of 212 Indians. Thirteen of these were entitled to Tribal rights with the Lac du Flambeau Indians. However, there were good reasons for believing that this "Lost Tribe" was once part of the larger group of Lake Superior Indians. They had wandered away from the main group and stubbornly formed a separate division.
According to legend, Mee-gee-see, their chief, was prevented from attending the treaty council on Madeline Island. He sent his speaker, Nigig to observe and report the proceedings. Without proper authority, Nigig signed a treaty which promised the Chippewa cash, equipment and lands. The following year when Mee-gee-see met with the Indian commissioner, the latter denied that he had made any treaty with Ni-gig. However, he promised to set aside a grant for the band the next year. He drew up a map which gave the Chippewa approximately 20 square miles of land in the Summit, Pelican, Metonga and Pickerel Lakes area.
The agent gave Mee-gee-see a copy of the plat, retaining the original for government files. But on the return trip from Washington, the boat sank in the Great lakes with everyone aboard.
|That autumn, as was their custom, the Sokaogon band followed the deer herds east to the swamps of Peshtigo, and, as usual, a trader, named Bill Johnson, grubstaked the tribe against the winter's trapping returns. Unfortunately, the story relates, the Chippewa were unable to pay the $1,200 debt because of the winter's severity Johnson slipped into the chief's tepee and requisitioned the map as security for the loan. Before the Indians were able to redeem the map, the trader became ill. He gave the map in payment to a man named Straus who cared for him until his death. Straus later committed suicide, leaving only rumors of the map's disposal. As a result the Sokaogon Indians were without a vestige of evidence to press their claim.
Wild Cranberries ( MASKIIGIMINAN )
Pronounced: MA SKËË' GE MIN' AN
Wild Cranberries found each fall growing in their natural environment along the Ojibway Nature Trail located on Sokaogon Mole Lake Chippewa land.
During the chieftainship of the Great Martin, "Ki-chi-waw-be-sha-shi", the Post Lake band numbered 700 Chippewa. Great Martin, a signer of the first treaty between the United States and the Chippewa of this area, was the father of Mee-gee-see, the Great Eagle. Mee-gee-see was intimately connected with the history of Langlade County. His daughter, Madwa-jiwan-no-quay, "Maid of the Forest," married Willard Leroy Ackley, Antigo's first white settler. Two sons were born to this marriage, Charles and DeWitt. In 1947, Charles Ackley declared that his
grandfather, Chief Meegee-see, had stated that the Mole Lake band had been promised a tract of land twelve miles square touching on Post, Pelican and Mole Lakes.
Charles Ackley was prominently connected with Langlade County activities for many years. In 1947, Ackley claimed that he was 95 years of age. He based this claim on his recollection of the year that his father told him he had reached manhood. Langlade County, however, records his birth date as October 20, 1857. If the record was correct, Ackley was 90 years of age instead of 95. Mr. Ackley died in 1952. The following account of his funeral appeared in the Antigo Daily Journal.
With a rite never before performed in such a setting, and which Antigo probably will never see again, Charles Ackley, centenarian resident of Langlade County, son of its first permanent white settler, and grandson of Chippewa Chief Great Eagle was accorded the burial honors of the ancient Medawe ceremonial.
William Mericle, an elder member of the Mole Lake Band of Chippewa, took his position beside the casket, and gave an address in the language of his people, making from time to time, the gestures appropriate. Chief Willard Ackley then took his place to give a free English version of what had been said by Mericle, who is the religious spokesman of the band, and leads the Tribal dances that form part of their religious expression.
The previous speaker, Chief Ackley said, had addressed the spirit of the departed, telling him that he was going into the presence of his Creator to be accorded a place at his right hand. He had lived well while he was with us, and he was entering the "happy hunting ground" where would be found all that is good on earth. In the joys before him he would not feel the want of his relatives on earth, and he was urged to go forward, entering into all of his privileges.
After summarizing the address by Mericle, Chief Ackley gave a short review of the history of his band, telling of Great Martin, the great-grandfather of Charles, of his grandfather, Great Eagle, his daughter, Maid of the Forest, the mother of Charles, and his white father, W.L. Ackley. References were also made to his later elder brothers, Ed (Missabe) and DeWitt, one living to the age of 90 and the other to the age of 85.
With a prayer in Chippewa, Chief Ackley completed his part. The service closed with a Chippewa burial chant by Charles VanZile while all present stood.
While the curtains were drawn, the newly-made moccasins for the heavenward journey were placed on his feet. Also buried with the body were a small buckskin containing a key, a pipe and three matches, two for his pipe, and one for light should he lose his way.
In 1937, Mrs. Grace Shaw Ross of Crandon, Wisconsin, gave a resume of the early Mole Lake Indians. When the Shaw family moved to Mole Lake, the Chippewa Indians in the vicinity numbered about 400. The Shaws were friendly toward the Chippewa and endeavored to have them settle on a permanent area. The nearest village at the time was Pelican Lake, 22 miles away. Mrs. Ross described the situation thus:
"We had always wondered that so many Indians remained here. They seemed to be kind of a lost tribe, as they had no government aid of any kind. About seven years after we located here, we tried to send some of the stray Indian children away to school, as they had no education of any kind. When the government agent came here to take them to Carlisle, and even furnished tickets for them to go, the tribe held a council. They refused to send any children, even orphans, as they said Uncle Sam had not done as he agreed with them in former years.
Then it was discovered that they hail been promised all this land here for a reservation. They produced a treaty signed by Franklin Pierce, giving them this land. My father saw this treaty. It seems their agent who was to finish this treaty and secure the land for them, went to Washington to complete the deal. He was drowned on the lakes in returning. They never got the land, but still remained here.
When my father found this out, he wrote to the government about it for them. The government said they had at this time deeded the land to the Northwestern Railway Company, as a land grant. They could not now let them have this land but would give them each an 80 of land in Minnesota. But this they would not accept. They said all their people were buried here, and they would not leave this place where they had always lived.
Ever since that time, the -tribe has been working to get a reservation established in this part of the country, but so far have not succeeded. The government has given them some aid at different times, distributing Pour and clothing, For many years they were destitute, but now their children have been somewhat educated and can work.
The treaty signed by Franklin Pierce w4s finally lost in some way by the tribe, but they still have some emblems given them by the government."
Mrs. Ross's statement regarding a treaty substantiates the Indians' claim to such a treaty.
Before the reservation was incorporated, the Mole Lake Chippewa lived in extreme poverty. Except for a cook stove, there was little or no furniture in their tar-paper shacks. These Chippewa welcomed the Reorganization Act and accepted a Constitution or October 8, 1938. Since the Mole Lake Indians were now recognized as a distinct Chippewa band, Works Progress Administration built eighteen log houses for their use.
The principle means of gaining a livelihood for this group are boat building, gathering wild rice and wreath greens and selling souvenir bows and arrows and other novelties. The soil, and sandy loam with gravel outcroppings, yields fair crops of potatoes and vegetables, oats, clover and timothy hay. Game on the reservation includes deer, muskrats, and wild fowl.
In 1968, the Sokaogon received additional lands which brought their reservation size to just under 2,000 acres.
Today the Sokaogon Chippewa continue to harvest rice and spearfish as they always did. Utilizing the state of the art technology and research, the Sokaogon Chippewa continue to protect the resources for the future generations.
With the advent of gambling casinos and bingo, the tribe has continued with an age-old Chippewa tradition of playing games of chance. The introduction of bingo and casinos drastically altered unemployment on the reservation from 80% to 10% in a couple of years. This enabled the surrounding communities to benefit financially and reduced federal dependence from Tribal members.
Today the tribe plans to utilize its money wisely be spending it on cultural restoration projects, environmental planning of the resources, education of its members and social, programs that enhance the general health of the tribe.
Portions of Sokaogon Chippewa History was taken from "Chippewa Indians of Yesterday and Today" by Sister M. Carolissa Levi F.S.P.A.
Visitors to our reservation are asked to respect the natural and cultural resources. Please refrain from littering or damaging property. Some areas are considered sacred and, are not open to the public. Contact Tribal offices for more information.
| In honor of Chief Willard L. Ackley (1885-1969) the Friday before Christmas each year is set aside to recognize him. This has been established as a Holiday, by a Tribal council resolution, for Tribal community members to remember him.
Sokaogon Chippewa Community
2013 Tribal Council
Chris McGeshick, Chairman
Arlyn Ackley Jr., Vice-Chairman
Vickie Ackley, Treasurer
Myra Jane VanZile, Secretary
Jimmy Landru, Councilman I
Clinton Fox, Councilman II