Lake Superior island returned to Grand Portage tribe
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by MPR News Staff,
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Susie Island has been returned to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Susie Island is the largest island. (Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.)

An island at the tip of northeastern Minnesota has been returned to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe.

The 142-acre Susie Island is the largest of 13 small and rocky islands in Lake Superior, just before the Canadian border. The islands are home to some of Minnesota’s rarest plant life.

April McCormick is a member of the Grand Portage Band and worked closely with the Nature Conservancy to bring the island back under the tribe’s control.

The Grand Portage Reservation was established by the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe. A large portion of land on the eastern side of Mount Josephine extending out to Pigeon Point was left out when the boundaries were drawn. Tribal leadership pushed for many years to reestablish this area as part of the reservation, McCormick said in a conversation with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer.

A 1982 proclamation made this north eastern point part of the Grand Portage Reservation, but portions – including Susie Island – were acquired by private land owners. Between 1973 and 1991, the Nature Conservancy worked to buy back the entirety of Susie Island from multiple land owners, preventing any commercial development there, McCormick said.

Now under band control, human influence on the island will be kept to a minimum in order to protect areas of cultural significance as well as the natural environment.

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at

Fond du Lac Band restores wild rice to keep harvest tradition alive
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Dan Kraker/MPR News,
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Jerrad Ojibway and Ed Jaakola bag about 80 pounds of wild rice they harvested. (Photos by Dan Kraker/MPR News.)

On the shore of Deadfish Lake on the reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in September, Ed Jaakola and Jerrad Ojibway scooped handfuls of wild rice from the bottom of their canoe into big plastic bags.

The rice was tough to harvest because of the wind, Jaakola said. Still, he estimated they had gathered 80 pounds, enough to cover the bottom of their canoe. It’s a tradition the 58-year-old has carried on for as long as he can remember.

“Probably 45 years for me,” he said.

Deadfish Lake, Zhaaganaashiins Odabiwining in the Ojibwe language, is blanketed so thick with wild rice this time of year it doesn’t even look like a lake.

“Because you essentially don’t see water when you’re looking at this,” said Thomas Howes, natural resources manager for the Fond du Lac Band, “you see what essentially looks like a field of grasses.”

The 100-acre lake is one of five primary wild rice lakes the band maintains. Together, they provide nearly 900 acres of wild rice habitat.

Deadfish Lake is especially important. “We keep it reserved for elder ricers for the first couple weeks of the year,” Howes explained, “because of its ease of access, but also because now it’s a reliable producer of wild rice.”

But that wasn’t the case more than 20 years ago. Back then, there wasn’t much wild rice left on the reservation to harvest. In the early 1900s the government built a network of ditches to try to drain the land for farming.

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Does Minnesota really need a new oil pipeline?
Friday, October 06 2017
Written by Dan Kraker/MPR News,
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Ever since Enbridge first proposed its $7 billion Line 3 project three years ago – its largest pipeline project ever – the company has touted it as a replacement project.

The Canadian company has operated its existing, 1,000-mile Line 3 for nearly 50 years. But the pipeline is corroding, which necessitates extensive and expensive maintenance, spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said.

“The best way to keep the communities and the environment safe really is to replace it,” she said. “This is a 1960s-era pipeline. We can replace it. We’ve got newer technology on our coating, it’s stronger steel, it would be thicker steel.”

However, the state Commerce Department argues the pipeline isn’t needed. A new round of public hearings for Line 3 began Sept. 26 as state regulators face the question of whether the project is necessary.

The pipeline was originally built to carry 760,000 barrels of oil a day. But the company has had to cut that nearly in half to maintain safety. The proposed new line would boost capacity back up to the original amount.

It would also cut a largely new corridor across northern Minnesota. It would track the original line’s path to Clearbrook, Minn, but then jut south toward Park Rapids, Minn., before cutting east to the Wisconsin border south of Duluth.

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Indian Horse Relay showcases Native American horse athletes
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Photos &text courtesy of Shakopee mdewakanton sioux community,
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High-speed American Indian bareback relay racing was on display at Canterbury Park August 24-26 in Shakopee, Minn. The event was presented by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC).

Relay teams consisted of three horses and four warriors. Riders in full regalia raced bareback down the track and exchanged horses at high speeds.

The Indian Horse Relay at Canterbury Park began in 2013 when the SMSC was invited to the Apsaalooke Crow Nation to see their Native American horse racing event. The SMSC’s Mystic Lake Casino Hotel partnered with Canterbury Park in 2012, bringing the sport to life in the area’s largest horse racing venue.

Native American music and dancing was held between races each night. Performances included SMSC Royalty, a traditional Native American drum group, and others.

For more information on Indian Horse Relay races, visit: 


orses are often painted for Indian Horse Relays to match the teams’ colors.  The horse is an important part of Native American culture. Referred to as the Horse Nation,  horses have a way of bringing Native people from all walks of life together. In an Indian Horse Relay race, riders make exchanges with the help of their teammates. But with so many  variables, plenty can go wrong--from flipped riders to loose horses running the track. Rider Dani Buffalo Jr., representing Holds the Enemy from the Crow Nation, executes a smooth exchange during the race.

The rain and drizzle didn't slow down JT Longfeather, rider for the Long Feather team from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The team showed talent and determination and placed fourth in the consolation relay. The championship race on Saturday night finished in dramatic fashion, with a video replay between Brew Crew, from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Tissidimit, from the  Sho-Ban Tribes. While Brew Crew (middle) appeared to have claimed the title, pulling ahead of Tissidimit by inches on the last stretch, the team was disqualified due to a rider infraction, leaving the crown to the Tissimidit team (left).

White Earth tribe holds high hopes for hemp
Thursday, September 14 2017
Written by Dan Gunderson/MPR News,
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hempstory2.jpgThere’s a lot of expectation invested in a few acres of hemp growing on a hill overlooking the small town of Callaway on the edge of the White Earth Reservation.

“I’m kinda nervous,” says tribal secretary-treasurer Tara Mason. “I don’t think I’ve been this concerned about how a crop is doing on White Earth until we planted these.”

Mason is nervous because the tribe has nearly $100,000 invested in this project and because she sees so much potential for economic development on this remote reservation.

“I think we’ve got a whole micro-economy that can be surrounded by hemp,” she said. “You know, this could really be the start of a lot of great things we can build on in the future.”

Hemp is grown for seeds or fiber. The seeds and the oil produced by crushing the seeds are a growing part of the food market.

“We are seeing growth in domestic hemp sales of 10-15 percent a year steadily as people discover that this is one of few grains that has complete protein,” said University of Minnesota professor George Weiblen, who has been studying hemp genetics for more than a decade. “It also has an excellent fatty acid profile, omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids that are popular for heart health.”

It’s also genetically related to marijuana, a connection that’s made widespread legal production in the United States nearly impossible. While hemp plants hold only a small amount of THC, the compound that gives marijuana it’s narcotic effect, the federal government still considers hemp a controlled substance, an illegal drug.

hempstorypeople.jpgThree years ago, Congress legalized industrial hemp for research purposes, but only under the watch of a university or a state agriculture department.

Last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency gave the Minnesota Department of Agriculture permission to start a hemp pilot project without running afoul of federal drug laws. It required the hemp seed be imported under permits from the state Agriculture Department. Six participants grew 40 acres.

This year, Minnesota ag officials received 42 applications for more than 2,000 acres. That included the tract at White Earth, which used seed imported from Canada and Europe. Although White Earth is a sovereign nation, tribal officials say they are following all state and federal regulations related to hemp.

Weiblen is overseeing hemp variety trials around the state including on the White Earth Reservation where there are 12 varieties of hemp bred for seed production. He’s certain hemp can be successfully grown across Minnesota.

“It’s ready to go. It’s suited to our region. We are halfway through our trial in Minnesota and we’re seeing plants doing very well,” said Weiblen. “Right now the main limiting step for hemp cultivation in Minnesota is the processing.”

Processing requires mills to chop plant stocks and extract fibers, and squeeze oil from the seeds.

White Earth is considering buying a press to crush seeds for hemp oil, but they see perhaps more potential in the taller, more robust plants growing next to the seed test plot.

“We have five varieties,” explains White Earth food sovereignty coordinator Zachary Paige, standing next to hemp plants that are about 7 feet tall. “It’s amazing. I’ve heard there’s 22,000 products you can make from hemp, so it’s pretty limitless.”

The hemp stalk has long fibers a bit like wool on the outside and a woody material inside. The long fibers are commonly used to make rope and fabric.

Right now, most of that market demand is filled with cheap Chinese imports. And those long fibers are difficult to extract

“So we’re going to start with the easier products, the hempcrete, the fiber board,” said Paige.

Hempcrete is concrete made with chopped-up hemp fibers. It’s lighter and stronger than traditional concrete. Fiber board combines wood chips and hemp in a plywood-like panel.

The challenges of processing hemp have tribal officials cautious about the payoff from hemp, but they envision making construction materials and creating much needed jobs.

“If you can integrate the hemp industry along with the building industry, mankind is always building,” said Douglas Lee, a student at the White Earth tribal college who’s helping create a hemp industry economic development plan. “That’s one need that’s never going to run out is building material.”

Hemp also fits well with the White Earth Nation vision for sustainable food production, said food sovereignty coordinator Paige. These hemp plots have had no added fertilizer or pesticides so it would fit well with an organic crop rotation.

“Edible beans, native corn, hemp, alfalfa. This kind of rotation is an organic rotation that would be profitable in a value added market,” said Paige.

White Earth chair Terry Tibbetts says creating industry around hemp would be a good way for White Earth to use its limited resources. He says because land is a renewable resource the tribe can use it to build a sustainable economy.

“The only thing that we have is gaming. So you know, we’re taking a look right now and diversifying,” Tibbetts said. “Because we don’t know how long Indian gaming is going to be around.”

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