Protecting Native American Heritage Sites in WI

Reserve, Wisconsin, 4/7/2007: On Friday, March 30, 2007 the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and The Trust for Public Land announced the conveyance of 17-acre Moonshine Island to the Lac Courte Oreille Band for $650,000. The island will be owned and managed by the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

Under the Chippewa Flowage Joint Agency Management Plan of 2000, a unique joint management agreement between the Lac Courte Oreilles Band, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, the overall management plan is “to perpetuate the undeveloped shoreline character of the Chippewa Flowage and to manage for compatible resource opportunities.”

In keeping with the collaborative spirit and sense of mission, the Chippewa Flowage Area Property Owners Association (CFAPOA) was also crucial to the preservation of Moonshine Island as an undeveloped resource of the Chippewa Flowage.

“Moonshine Island in the Chippewa Flowage of northern Wisconsin is an important conservation effort, and a historically significant site, featuring 3,000 feet of natural shoreline and an intact, functional ecosystem,” stated Doug Kurtzweil, CFAPOA Chair, and a major organizer to conserve the island.

The opportunity to protect this ecological gem is a high priority for the Lac Courte Oreilles people as well as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Forest Service, who jointly own and manage 12,163 acres of the Flowage, including most of the shoreline and islands. Private development of Moonshine Island would detract visually from the wild character of this part of the lake as well as degrade cultural resources.

The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board, under the chairmanship of Louis Taylor asked TPL for assistance in acquiring Moonshine Island in November, 2005. From the end of 2005 through early 2007, TPL project staff worked with the landowner, eventually convincing him to sell the property for below market value, and make this opportunity available to the tribe.

Moonshine Island is located in the most historically significant area of the Chippewa Flowage, according to Jerry Smith, Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. It is close to the site of the original native village of Old Post, which was flooded during the creation of the Chippewa Flowage despite strong objections by the Lac Courte Oreilles people. The site also likely includes unmarked graves and artifacts. TPL worked closely with the Lac Courte Oreilles Band to help conserve this natural treasure and return it to its original stewards.

Indian Farms: Restoring the sanctity of Potawatomi and Ojibwa burial sites

In November 2006 TPL acquired 240 acres of what is referred to as the Indian Farms area of northern Wisconsin. The natural resources at Indian Farms include heavily wooded areas with poplar, maple, and pine trees, fields and former gardens. The land is varied with hills and swampier areas with signs of beaver activity.

Indian Farms included cemeteries for the Potawatomi and Ojibwa peoples and had been vandalized and desecrated in the past half-century. Its significance as a site of great historic and spiritual importance to the Potawatomi and Ojibwa peoples was jeopardized by its private ownership status. Both the U.S. Forest Service and tribal representatives wanted to bring the site into public ownership; it only became a reality with TPL’s assistance. Once in public ownership, the Forest Service can enforce site protection measures and in cooperation with affected tribes, appropriately interpret the site’s importance to the public. Indian Farms is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“TPL’s decision to step in and negotiate a purchase of this land for eventual conveyance to the Forest Service has resulted in a resounding victory for Native peoples who revere this location, and for the general public who deserve to know more about the important and tragic events that took place at Indian Farms. All of us who value Indian Farms, all who wish to see it forever protected, extend our most sincere appreciation to TPL,” observed Mark Bruhy, Forest Archaeologist with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

TPL is working with the U.S. Forest Service and the Wisconsin congressional delegation, in particular U.S. Senator Herb Kohl and Chairman Dave Obey of the U.S. House, who are both on their respective appropriations committees, to add the site to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It is anticipated that this project will be completed in May or June, 2007.