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The State of the States
Summer 1999

Online Archive

*  For the Generations to Come: The Lac du Flambeau Tribal Historic Preservation

(photo) Native American tribal member circa 1908.

"There were more battles, skirmishes, and troop movements [in Tennessee] than in any other state except Virginia. And that, of course, is reflected in the potential number of sites. "

Sam Smith

by Cynthia Stiles

"As I look back on it now, it was like learning to walk—we took such small steps to get from one point to the next. And we had the help of so many people." This is how Patricia Hrabik Sebby, former preservation officer, remembers the first years of the Lac du Flambeau tribal historic preservation program, one of only eighteen in the country to have assumed the duties of a state historic preservation office.

The Lac du Flambeau reservation covers 144 square miles, a scenic mixture of pine and hardwood forest, lakes, wetlands, and rivers. Located in northern Wisconsin, the reservation was established in the mid-19th century through treaties with the U.S. government. Ten Lake Superior Ojibwe bands live on reservation land in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Five other tribal governments retain holdings in Wisconsin: the Menominee, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk (formerly Wisconsin Winnebago), Stockbridge-Munsee, and Oneida.

Preserving history and culture has always been important to the community. The late Ben Guthrie, a tribal member and avocational historian who spent a lifetime collecting photos and artifacts, was the force behind the Lac du Flambeau Cultural and Historical Society, chartered in 1986. Patricia became the first preservation officer in 1990, two years after ground was broken for the George W. Brown, Jr., Ojibwe Museum and Cultural Center.

With these steps, the tribe began a decade-long journey to develop a preservation program for the community. This is the Flambeau story.

The Road to Preservation

Guthrie's scholarship and enthusiasm launched the program. Ben sought subjects that would draw people to the society meetings. Recalls Pat, "He added a personal touch that was appreciated by everyone, and through his kindness and effort, kept the society strong." Ben's son, Gregg, worked tirelessly with his father to establish the center, now under the directorship of a third generation Guthrie, Ben's grandson, Marcus. Pat also continued the crusade. From the very beginning, the tribal preservation office and the museum have been inextricable.

A 1990 tribal resolution established the THPO program and with it a cultural committee of elders and other members of the tribe. A list of goals was formalized, including documenting archeological sites and historic structures, identifying tribal gathering areas and improving access to them, and developing educational programs.

Even though the first steps seemed easy, the process was like learning to walk. Pat canvassed the tribal members, who overwhelmingly supported preservation and heritage tourism. The tribal council concurred, approving two sites for public interpretation (see sidebars). Research on one of the sites, an historic fur trade post, was carried out with a Park Service survey and planning grant administered by the state historical society. NPS has been a long-standing partner, granting funds for developing the program, hiring personnel, conducting oral histories, computerizing records, and training in archeological and archival methods. The historical society sponsored trips to its archives to discuss cataloguing and conservation.

Tribal members were trained in survey and excavation by the Burnett County Historical Society, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The early surveys used tribal members as crew; several assisted excavations on national forest land to gain experience in site identification and artifact analysis. In 1997, 20 were certified as paraprofessionals, and some have already assisted with investigations on the reservation (archeological investigations must be conducted in advance of all ground-disturbing activities). Today I serve as tribal archeologist through a partnership with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and the State Historical Society. In 1998, when Patricia retired, Kelly Jackson took over as tribal preservation officer.

All this hard work has resulted in over 150 surveys, a map and document archive, a curation facility housed in the tribal museum, and a program with community participation. Over a hundred sites have been identified ranging in age from 10,000 years to present times, including ancient hunting and gathering campsites, extensive villages along the numerous lakeshores, short-term sites related to specific resources such as wild rice or maple sugar, mound and burial sites, historic logging era sites, and homesteads.

But field investigation is only one of the tools. Staff consult the archives for records of more recent events, interviewing elders and other community members. Archeological sites have been used for school projects too. Mock excavations, using recycled "artifacts" in sand boxes, teach field methodology to all ages. Fourth graders have assisted non-disturbance projects such as mapping.

Teaching awareness at a young age is recognized as the key to keeping the culture vigorous. To that end, a junior cultural committee was formed to teach young people the principles of archeology and the importance of protecting the tribe's heritage. Program staff participate in career development classes in local schools and conduct programs in conjunction with the tribal museum.

Beyond the Bounds

Many non-native communities still think of tribes as stuck in the 19th century western milieu. Heritage tourism provides an opportunity to change that perception, and THPO staff actively take part.

Ten years ago, Lac du Flambeau was the first tribe to participate in a heritage tourism pilot project. The initiative, sponsored by the National Trust and the state, now includes all 11 tribes in Wisconsin. A second initiative, sponsored by the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council, publishes a Native American culture magazine and developed an exhibit and powpow for the Wisconsin sesquicentennial in 1998. The community also encourages private projects, such as a 20-acre re-creation of a 17th century Waswagoning Indian village by tribal member Nick Hockings. For its part, the tribal museum is well-visited as are powwows each Tuesday evening in July and August and the annual Bear River powwow in the second weekend of July.

For the Generations Past

Recent controversies over sacred sites and ancient burial grounds have emphasized the differences between native and non-native views. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the THPO, cultural committee, and tribal museum work to identify human remains and sacred objects associated with the tribe and to facilitate their return. THPO staff and the museum work together on all burial issues. The THPO talks to landowners on and off the reservation about the sacred nature of burial sites.

For the Generations to Come

While the program is almost 10 years old, new challenges appear every week. Most concern the differences in perception between native and non-native communities. Education is a high priority.

Identifying sites is important, but so is involving the community. The training in archeology and oral history—in conjunction with the field investigations—has gone farther in engaging tribal members than any number of lectures and slide presentations. Projects such as a maple sugaring research grant have shown the importance of traditional gathering areas to the tribe's future.

School programs root students in the community. The preservation office, which is developing apprenticeships, encourages students to initiate research projects in archeology, preservation, and community history. The office is also working on a survey of archeological sites and historic buildings. Staff nominate sites for a newly created Tribal Register of Historic Places as well as for national and state registers.

Kelly sees the program's present and future tied closely to the perceptions of the community: "We need to teach our children who they are, where they live, and who came before them. This will preserve, protect and strengthen our traditions, culture, and history."

For more information, please contact Cynthia Stiles, Lac du Flambeau Tribal Archaeologist, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, P.O. Box 67, Lac du Flambeau, WI 54538, (715) 588-2770, fax (715) 588-2419, e-mail ldfthpo@newnorth.net.

Contact . . . And Consequences

Remains of the Fur Trade

A letter misfiled over a hundred years ago, found while training tribal members in archival research, led to the discovery of a fur post site associated with the 1745 Ojibwe village in the heart of the modern town of Lac du Flambeau. What may sound serendipitous is an offshoot of the smart planning in the search for the sites, begun in 1993.

The first part of the project, led by historian James Bokern, had two goals: to locate documents pertaining to the posts, and to instruct tribal museum employees in archival searches. Over a hundred documents were discovered, plotting traders, missionaries, and explorers who moved through the area between 1795 and 1840. Three fur trading concerns, the North West Company, the XY Company, and the American Fur Company, were found to be associated with the original Ojibwe village on the shore of Flambeau Lake.

The findings, developed into an archive and database at the museum, yielded a list of potential post locations. This list was passed to the archeologists for the second part of the project, field investigation. The misfiled letter, between a land office surveyor and an Indian agent, pinpointed the American Fur Company post.

Archeologists Edgar Oerichbauer and Cynthia Stiles conducted a post survey as a field school, with recruits from the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, the Chippewa Youth Corps, the BIA, and the tribal land management and forestry departments. An underwater survey was carried out with volunteers from the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeological Association led by State Underwater Archaeologist David Cooper and his assistant David Beard.

The tribal council, cultural committee, and preservation office have pledged to continue the project with an eye to reconstructing the American Fur Company post, the remains of an era that had a resounding influence on Ojibwe culture.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School

In the early 19th century, the U.S. government developed a policy of solving the "Indian problem" by weaning the young from tribal ways, immersing them in Euro-American culture at the boarding schools that spread across the country after the Civil War. While a mixed chapter in the history of the Lac du Flambeau, the era left one site that is close to the top of what tribal members want to preserve.

The tribal boarding school was built in 1895 on the isthmus between the three lakes in the Flambeau chain: Flambeau, Long Interlocken, and Pokegama. Originally a complex of 18 structures together with a farm and forest, the school allowed a high degree of self-sufficiency. By the time it closed its doors in 1934, the school enrolled 300 a year and had electricity and modern plumbing.

Most of the old buildings have been removed or remodeled. But one, originally a boy's dormitory, has been almost continually in use since the school's closing, first as BIA housing, then as a BIA office, a tribal government building, and most recently a homeless shelter. Though closed now, the THPO is working to reopen and reuse the old dorm, since it is the most representative structure of the school.The remains of the farm—foundations, stone and wire fences, and animal pens—are also evident.

From 1993 until her retirement in 1998, tribal historic preservation officer Pat Hrabik Sebby made saving the dorm a personal priority. The THPO and the tribal museum have conducted many oral history interviews with the last remaining students. A photo archive has been started. Money to undo the remodeling, both inside and out, is being sought from public and private institutions.

Tribal elders feel the dormitory is a symbol of survival through a harsh era. As such it has been listed among the top sites to preserve.

MJB/EJL