Traveling to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore | Part 4 | Mooningwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island)

Part 4  Mooningwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island)


This is the Anishinaabe name for Madeline Island. It means The Place of the Golden-Breasted Flickered Woodpecker. The Anishinaabe are a group of culturally-related indigenous people that includes the OdawaOjibwePotawatomiOji-CreeMississaugasChippewa, and Algonquin peoples. These people, translated to "the good humans" because of their obedience to continuing on the correct path as commanded by the Creator Gitche Manitou, or Great Spirit, settled on Mooningwanekaaning-minis. The Great Spirit and prophets told the people to move westward across North America, following the Migis shell that appeared in the sky until they settled in the place where "food grew on water". This food was manoomin (wild rice), and it was found here. 

For 300 years, the Anishinaabe lived on Mooningwanekaaning-minis before they encountered French fur traders. These French voyagers settled in LaPointe, and traded with the Natives for fur while starting to intermarry with the Native women. The relationship between these groups was good. But as time went on, and the English people continued to settle and multiply, Anishinaabe chiefs and tribal leaders were coerced into signing treaties, in a language they often did not fully understand, that allowed mining, logging and settlement. It was cheaper for the United States Government to sign treaties than it was to go to war to take these lands from the Native people. It is estimated that in the 1837 Treaty, 11 million acres sold for $.08 per acre. 

I could write a novel about the treatment of the Native people through these treaties, but I won't. However, let's talk about the Sandy Lake Tragedy because it is tied into my visit to Mooningwanekaaning-minis last month. 

In 1850, President Taylor illegally issued an order to remove the Native people from the island and nearby lands, counter to the prior treaty agreements. The way they thought they could do this was to move the location where the Natives received their annuity payments from the government from Mooningwanekaaning to Sandy Lake (southwest of Duluth, MN) which was 121 miles away. The thinking was that by the time the Natives arrived at Sandy Lake, they would be exhausted, hungry, sick, and wouldn't turn around to make the trip back to Mooningwanekaaning-minis, thus settling at Sandy Lake and other areas of Minnesota for good. You can read more about the Sandy Lake Tragedy (also known as The Chippewa Trail of Tears) here. 

In 1852, as a result of the Sandy Lake Tragedy, Chief Buffalo (a man in his 90's) traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Fillmore and put a stop to the removal of the Natives. Ultimately, the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe was signed by the United States and representatives of the Ojibwe and Mississippi tribes, which set up Indian Reservations, one being the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The Bad River Tribe was given 200 acres on the north side of what was now called Madeline Island.

1854 Treaty of LaPointe

In 1976, The Bad River Ojibwe Tribe signed a 50 year lease to non-Native people called the Amnicon Bay Association. The Bay, about 17 acres, is included in the 200-acre parcel on the island owned by the tribe, guaranteed to them by the LaPointe Treaty of 1854. Remote and pristine, the land offers a seemingly endless view of Gitchee Gummee, or great sea (Lake Superior). 

Well, that lease ended in August 2017 and tribal leaders and members declared they would not renew the lucrative lease. As I stepped foot onto Madeline Island on my last day of my vacation, there were estate sales occurring in Amnicon Bay, in preparation for the land to be taken back over by the Bad River Tribe. Some (maybe many) were not happy, though they knew when they became part of the lease that the land belonged to the tribe and that 2017 was the year they could decide to do with it as they pleased. The Natives are now starting to strongly show their treaty rights and sovereignty in recent years, especially related to protection and stewardship of the environment. In 2011, the tribe won the right from the Environmental Protection Agency to set their own standards for water quality on their lands, which has led to a battle over the creation of an open pit iron ore mine immediately adjacent to the reservation that they maintain will pollute their land and water.

Why am I telling you all of this? 

Madeline Island is a magical place to me. It has an energy, a spirit, that I can't quite describe but I feel it when I'm there. And I fully believe that it is tied into the history of this place, the journey that the inhabitants of the land have been on through the years. And I didn't really know that when I introduced my daughter to Mooningwanekaaning-minis that she would have an eerily similar reaction to it's energy.

When Veda and I arrived back on the island after saying goodbye to my mom, sister, and nephew, we immediately went to Grampa Tony's for more ice cream, then walked across the street to the small beach there near the docks. With our toes in the sand and sticky Superman-flavored ice cream dripping down our hands, she told me that she loved this island. My heart fluttered. Three year olds can be hard to keep entertained, and Veda tells me often that she's "bored", but in this moment, on this trip, she seemed so content taking in all the scenes and making these memories with me.

After strolling around LaPointe for a little bit, checking out the newest art in Bell Street Gallery and picking up a new sweatshirt at Adventure Vacations, we drove out to the land where my friend Daisy was living for the summer. Over my last few trips, I had admired this cabin, called The Shack, every time I passed it and I was tickled to find out it was incredibly close to where we would be staying.

Madeline Island cabin

Daisy was still traveling back to the island from Duluth so when we pulled up, we were greeted by Ludlow, who owns the land and home he started building there in 1998 (and self-admittedly is STILL working on it). He showed us the camper where we would stay, introduced us to his dogs Diogi (Dee-oh-gee) and Reckless, and led us to the edge of the land where a steep, rickety staircase led down to the water's edge. There was Gitchee Gummee in all it's glory, pristine and calm, and filling up my soul. Oh to live in a place like this, with this view, with this history - it's a dream.

The rest of the night was filled with good conversation, laughter, and cooking dinner on a fire before we climbed down the rickety staircase to the dock. We had to have spent a good hour and a half down here at the dock, playing in the sand, perusing the rocky beach searching for the "perfect rocks" to throw back into Lake Superior, and hanging out with Diogi and Reckless before the sun set and the day came to a close.

The next morning, Daisy and her son Max took us to Grant's Point, on the south side of the island. We took a nice ice cold bath in the waters of Lake Superior with our eco-friendly biodegradable shampoo. The kids explored the beach while Daisy and I talked about our goals and dreams. This is my favorite thing to do with Daisy...we are both dreamers :)

We were hungry as hostages so before Veda and I left the island we needed to get breakfast. I'd been wanting to try Farmhouse, which is a restaurant whose core principle is to source local ingredients, as organic as possible, and to always cook from scratch. They nail it! This place is packed, the food is presented in the most lovely way, and it's fresh and amazing. You HAVE to try their French fries...they will change your life.

After an amazing lunch, we said our goodbyes and got in line to take the ferry back to the mainland. And this is when I knew that Veda felt the same magic as I did here on the island. After we pulled the car up onto the ferry and parked, I heard sniffling and whimpering, very quietly, and when I turned around to look at Veda, I was surprised to see her face. She was crying....and I don't mean the kind of crying that usually happens when a 3 year old is throwing a tantrum or crying for attention. This was genuine sadness, sadness that she didn't even need recognized by me; it was organically welling up inside of her and it was the first time I'd seen her react THIS way, I think ever.

I asked her what was wrong. "I'm so sad to be leaving Madeline Island. I'm going to miss it!" she said as her lip quivered and she took deep breaths to calm herself down. And then, I lost it. Even through me telling her I understood how she felt, and we could come back soon and bring Daddy and Brooks, tears started welling up in my eyes. 

Because exactly 377 days earlier, on August 1st 2016, I was sleeping on Madeline Island when I awoke from a dream where my late father visited me. It's the ONLY dream where he's visited me since his death in January 2016. In the dream, I was meeting my mom and dad at a public place, like what I would describe as similar to the Minnesota Science Museum. When I walked in, I spotted them in the lobby area and as I walked towards them, my dad was beaming from ear to ear, hands behind his back like he always had them, and swaying back and forth like he always did. As I approached, I gave my mom a big hug, then turned to my dad and gave him a big hug as he said "Hey kiddo". As I hugged him, I noticed that my mom was looking at me funny, and in an instant I realized that she could not see him. She was looking at me funny because I was hugging the air - it was his spirit standing next to her. I didn't pause on this revelation, I just turned and walked side by side with my mom down the hall, as my dad stepped behind us and put each of his hands on our shoulders, continuing down the hallway with us. 

I awoke abruptly after that. I knew what it meant instantly. My dad was telling me that he was here with my mom and I, that he was on the journey with us, and that we were on the right track. During this period of life, I was deciding whether I should jump in and launch my photography business. I had taken baby steps, but was terrified. Yet, something was telling me that NOW was as good a time as any, and that I should do it now before now turned into never. This dream gave me affirmation that I was on the right path, and he was there with me.

In the hours after my dream, I cried nonstop. I cried as I told my girlfriends that were with me. I cried as I packed up my things to go back to the mainland, and I sobbed on the entire ferry ride home. I just couldn't stop. I sobbed the entire ride to Hayward where I met my husband for a night, and I cried on and off that entire night and the next day. Nothing could stop the emotion that spilled out of me after this dream where I FELT his hand, where I hugged his body after not having touched it for so long, where I heard his healthy and joyful voice that I hadn't heard in YEARS since cancer had reeked havoc on his speech ability.

And here was Veda, sobbing on the ferry ride home just like I had a little over a year earlier because of an emotion that could not be contained. See, my dad was with us on this trip again, just like he was with me the year prior. He would NEVER have missed a trip to northern WI. 

Signs from my Dad

On our way to Madeline Island this time, Veda and I stopped to get something to eat. When I put Veda back in the car, I saw a dime sitting right underneath her car seat. A dear friend of mine had once told me of the significance of dimes (and pennies) to the afterlife: loved ones from the other side leave dimes in odd places, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, to signify that someone from the afterlife is with you or approving of the path you're on in this life. Now, I don't carry cash, so I never have any coins on me. And I put Veda in that carseat every single day, and had already been to the side of her carseat twice that day, never having noticed a dime there that would have had to have been THROWN or PLACED where it was (there's no way that Veda dropping a dime would end up where it did right underneath her car seat). I immediately knew it was my dad telling me he was with us on the trip. 

When we arrived at our hotel room in Bayfield, we couldn't find the wifi password. I searched my purse for the wifi card I had been given for hours. When we finally found it written on a piece of paper in the hotel room, I couldn't believe it. The wifi password was 19481948 (the year my dad was born). Clue number two that he was here.

The second night on our vacation, as we were getting ready for bed, my sister was flipping through the channels on the tv that had few options, and Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire were on the tv - two my dad's all time favorite dancers/actors. Clue number three that he was here.

At Joni's Beach earlier on the final day of my vacation, I was telling Daisy about the dime and the wifi password and we were talking about my family, specifically my brothers. At that moment, Daisy's son found a dime on the ground. The year on the dime was the year my brother Michael was born.  Clue number four in my book that my dad was here with us.

I cherish the memories that Veda and I made on this wonderful trip. I know I exposed her to something magical and spiritual, and she is so excited to bring us back there this fall. If you haven't planned a trip there, start now. You won't be disappointed.