Trip to Mille Lacs Ojibwe Reservation

The trip to the Mille Lacs reservation area was one of the most interesting experiences of out study tour schedule. The sharp contrast to the experiences we had with ethnic groups in large cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. The Mille Lacs area is of outstanding natural beauty. Mille Lacs is the second largest lake in the state of Minnesota with more than 200 square miles expanse and about 40 feet depths.

Mille Lacs

The area is a touristic center especially for weekend tourism from the urban region of the Twin Cities St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 1855 the American Indian Reservation of Mille Lacs was established to give home to the Band of Ojibwe. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is a tribe of American Indians who originally lived in the East, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. According to oral traditions, the tribe migrated west 500 years ago, settling in the Mille Lacs region around 1700. In the 1800s the Ojibwe faced problems as more and more Europeans settled in what is today the state of Minnesota. Violence and suppression were the result, by the end of the 19th century only a few hundred members of the Ojibwe tribe still lived in the Mille Lacs area. The first half of the 20th century was marked by poverty and despair, but also by a new volition within the tribe. An autonomous government was installed together with a Tibal Court and a Tribal School System.

The Band of Ojibwe cares very much about their cultural traditions, preservation of the language and oral history. The opening of a Tribal Casino in the early 1990s became a huge success for the tribe. Today many tourists come to visit the Reservation but also the Casino. The thus earned money is shared in a very idealistic way. Every acknowledged member of the Band of Ojibwe, regardless of the place of residence, gets a monthly benefit of about $ 700. Still, the main part of the Casino’s asset goes into the infrastructure of the Reservation. Modern schools, hospitals and streets but also a very modern tourism center is paid by the new wealth of the Ojibwe.

Professor Keil and Travis Zimmerman of the Mille Lacs Indian Museum

We had the chance to get an exclusive guidance through the exhibition in Mille Lacs Indian Museum by Travis Zimmermann. He explained the traditional life of the Ojibwe Tribe linked to the season. 3.000 tribe members moved in a range of 10 to 20 miles within the year. In the spring time the Ojibwe produced sugar and sirup a few miles away from the lake. At summer the tribe moved directly to the lakeside to fish. They lived in stable houses because of the strong winds at the lake sides. At fall they moved to a different lake where they were able to grow rice. When the cold winter arrived they moved into the forests where they were protected from bad weather. In the forest they would trap animals or go icefishing to survive. Also in the winter time the tradition of storytelling became of immense importance as the Ojibwe Indians had no written history. The story telling was therefore the closest way for children to a former education.

Wintertime in the traditional life of Ojibwe Indians

Today there are three districts within the Mille Lacs Reservation. We visited District 1 which houses approximately 1.000 people and gives room to the Grand Casino Mille Lacs. The Reservation plays a major role in Minnesota’s tourism industry since the 1920s. In the 1970s the first tourism complex was built and became an economical success. In 1996 the first Ojibwe American Indian Bank opened and has since then become a major income for the tribe in the recent years.

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