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Grand Portage ancestral homeland recognized in new designation of Isle Royale

Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green with Tribal Council Member John Morrin and Chair Beth Drost. Photo by Rhonda Silence
Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green with Tribal Council Member John Morrin and Chair Beth Drost. Photo by Rhonda Silence

Grand Portage community members and friends boarded the Grand Portage-Isle Royale ferry boat, the Sea Hunter, on a brilliant summer morning on July 23 to head to Isle Royale for a unique celebration. Isle Royale—or Minong—has received “Traditional Cultural Property” status, a federal designation that recognizes that Isle Royale is the ancestral home of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

Click to see a photo album of photos of the celebration.

The skies smiled on the Sea Hunter passengers, as there was first a stop at the Little Cedar Spirit Tree for an offering of tobacco.
Entering Washington Harbor on Isle Royale, Captain Don Szczech made a brief stop at the sunken Steamship America. Weather conditions were perfect to view the historic, submerged vessel.

A large contingent of National Park Service staffers were on hand at the Windigo dock to welcome the Grand Portage group and all gathered in the pavilion for a celebration. Grand Portage Tribal Councilman Rick Anderson greeted everyone and the Stonebridge Singers offered a drum song, followed by a blessing by Grand Portage Tribal Councilman John Morrin.

Councilman Anderson then spoke of the significance of the day and thanked all who had worked to make this recognition of Grand Portage’s ties to Isle Royale happen. Anderson said it was the work of two people—the late Tribal Chair Norman Deschampe and Tim Cochrane, a retired National Park Service superintendent. Anderson said the Traditional Cultural Property designation would not have happened if it were not for Cochrane’s research work.

Anderson invited Cochrane to speak, and he did so, recalling his colleague and friend, Norman Deschampe. He said he was honored to have been trusted to move the nomination for the Traditional Cultural Property designation forward.

Next, Duane “Butch” Deschampe came forward with two Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa flags to present to Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green. Deschampe, an Army veteran, said he hoped to see the Grand Portage flag flying at the Windigo dock “forever and ever.”

Finally, Tribal Chair Beth Drost gave a gift to Superintendent Green from the Grand Portage people. Councilman Morrin explained the significance of the gift, which included sweet grass, sage, tobacco and wild rice. Superintendent Green expressed appreciation for the gift and said she looks forward to a continued, strengthened relationship with the Grand Portage Band.

Green also said the National Park Service had a gift of food. Some of her staff had caught and prepared some Isle Royale lake trout for the gathering. At that, Councilman Anderson happily announced that it was time for the feast.

The Stonebridge Singers offered another drum song and all in attendance—elders first, of course—gathered for the feast of wild rice and berries, fish cooked in several styles, and blueberry bannock.

The Stonebridge Singers ate and then went back to the drum to sing several more songs, the sound of the drum echoing across the waters of Minong.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence was honored to be part of this special celebration and she shares this report.