The Home of the Ojibwe: How Ojibwe Sovereignty Survived the Winter Dam, 191629

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:30 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
Margaret Huettl, University of Nebraska
In the 1920s, the state of Wisconsin, with federal approval under the Federal Power Act of 1920, built a dam on the Chippewa River, just south of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation’s eastern boundary. The Winter Dam, owned by the Wisconsin-Minnesota Power and Lights Company, promised to bring electricity to rural communities and tourists to the northwoods economy. The Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, protected by the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe, ensured a home for future generations of Ojibwe and access to essential resources such as manoomin (wild rice). The state, however, appropriated Ojibwe lands and resources for corporate profits and so-called public good, disregarding both legal rights and the real harm to Ojibwe people. The rising waters swamped homes, manoomin, and hundreds of graves, ultimately inundating nearly half of the reservation.

This paper explores how the Lac Courte Oreilles People maintained their relationships with their fractured, flooded homeland and, by extension, their sovereignty, even as the state of Wisconsin and the federal government refused to recognize that sovereignty. In the fight against the dam, Ojibwe leaders articulated an expansive version of sovereignty rooted in their relationship with the land since time immemorial, in particular manoomin and their ancestors’ graves. After the waters rose, Ojibwe men and women repaired frayed networks along the water’s edge. They carried their ancestors’ remains to new graves and used treaty-protected rights to access wild rice beyond the reservation’s borders. State-based archives erase the Ojibwe or drown them in bureaucracy, much like the dam’s waters swamped their graves and manoomin. However, approaching these archives from the perspective of Ojibwe relationships with the land opens up histories of Indigenous power and resilience, allowing scholars to recognize sovereignty in the midst of settler colonial destruction.

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