The Fond du Lac Indian Reservation (or Nah-Gah-Chi-Wa-Nong (Nagaajiwanaang in the
Double Vowel orthography), meaning "Where the current is blocked" in the Ojibwe
language) is an Indian reservation in northern Minnesota near Duluth in Carlton and St.
Louis counties, with off-reservation holdings in Douglas County in Wisconsin. The total land
area of these tribal lands is 398.437 km² (153.8375 sq mi). It is the land-base for the Fond du
Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Before the establishment of this reservation, the Fond
du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa were located at the head of Lake Superior, closer to
the mouth of the St. Louis River.
Every K-8 teacher in Minnesota should understand and be able to convey the significance of
visual art in the various American Indian cultures throughout our state.
For students to understand and appreciate the diverse American Indian cultures of
Minnesota, teachers must first become knowledgeable in the significance of visual art. It
defines their histories, serves as a foundation for their cultures and values, and provides a
means of expressive communication.
Furthermore, an in-depth knowledge of visual art as it relates to the various American Indian
cultures in Minnesota will help educators to realize these cultures are not limited to
producing beadwork. Their expertise spans a variety of forms, such as pictographs and
petroglyphs, birch bark baskets and canoes, leather works, lithographs, silkscreen prints, wood
collages, paintings, and sculpture.
As a result of understanding and appreciating the significance of visual art, educators will
realize its influence upon the past, present, and future of each of the American Indian
cultures of Minnesota.
Just 15 miles west of Duluth is the Fond du Lac Reservation where the Anishinaabeg (which is
an Ojibwe/Chippewa word meaning “The People”) have resided since its inception on
September 24, 1854. Fond du Lac translates to Nagaajiwanaang, or “Where the current is
blocked” and was a product of The LaPointe Treaty. This was the last major treaty between
the bands of Chippewa that inhabited Northern Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, and the
Western UP of Michigan (http://www.fdlrez.com/).
Before the creation of the Fond du Lac Reservation, the Chippewa people lived on an area of
land that was double the size and was located at the head of the nearby St. Louis River.
However, after ceding 25% their land in the treaty, the Chippewa relocated to FDL
Reservation, which is 100,000 acres in size.
The Chippewa comprise the second largest ethnic group of American Indians in the United
States. They are associated with the Algonquin linguistic family and are connected to the
Cree, Fox, Ottawa, Potowatomi, and Menominee people.
In the past, they were a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer culture. They fished the rivers and
lakes in the summer, collected wild rice from the nearby bodies of water in autumn, hunted
the surrounding forests in the winter, and collected maple sugar in their camps during the
spring. The Chippewa alternated between isolated family groups in the hunting season to
larger communities during the rest of the year. Interestingly, there were very few formal
structures of their tribes and the heads of family groups were acknowledged as chiefs.
Archaeologists have determined that ancestors of the Chippewa have lived in this area since at
least 800 A.D. (http://www.fdlrez.com/). And experts believe four different time periods
mark the history of the Chippewa. These include: Pre-contact, French, English, and U.S.
Little is known about the pre-contact period because the Chippewa relied upon an oral
history and few artifacts remain.
The French period refers to the explorations of the French in 1622, when Etienne Brule met
with the Chippewa in Sault Ste. Marie. As French traders entered the area, they developed
positive relationships with the Chippewa. They traded with one another, intermarried,
learned the Ojibwe language, and solidified friendships.
The English entered the Chippewa’s land, drove out the French, and established a treaty with
the Chippewa in 1766. However, the English devalued the Chippewa and treated them as
enemies of a savage culture.
The United States overthrew the English and opened the area (present-day Minnesota,
Wisconsin, and Michigan) to new settlers in search of farmland. This newest influx of whites
eradicated the timber, took ancestral land away, and made the Chippewa people’s hunter-
gatherer way of life impossible to maintain. Customs were abandoned, lifestyles were altered,
land was taken away, and assimilation became a stark reality.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed an interest in learning about the Chippewa people. My
mom’s family owns a sizable chunk of land in the original area of the Chippewa (at the head
of the St. Louis River) and I’d often hear stories about my mom and her brothers and sisters
finding countless artifacts in their pastures.
My family’s connection to the Chippewa is not my only motivation to learn about their
culture, however. As a student, I learned nothing about Native Americans, except the little
that was taught during the condensed school week of Thanksgiving. This mini-exploration of
Native Americans was incredibly stereotypical, though. We dressed in construction paper
headdresses, did war whoops and powwows, and “spoke” like Indians with broken English and
crude hand gestures.
I wish my childhood lessons of the Chippewa had been different. I wish I would have been
able to talk to members of their community and learn the real story of their culture and
history. We do our students…and the Native American people…an injustice by either
failing to teach about their ways, or feeding our students superficial or inaccurate
We need to understand this people. We are neighbors, for goodness sake…and most of us in
this area know nothing of them. We base our opinions of the Chippewa upon the typical
tales involving drunkards, welfare-recipients, and Casinos. Is this really an accurate account
of this people? Obviously not. But by failing to learn the truth about the people of the Fond
du Lac Reservation and by propagating our stereotypical opinions, we are creating another
new generation who will misunderstand, assume falsely, and learn to resent the Chippewa.
We can’t let that happen.
Here’s what I plan to do about it:
During an in-depth exploration of the Chippewa culture (which includes the past, present,
and future of the people), our class will take a field trip to the Fond du Lac Tribal and
Community College, where there is a plethora of Native American resources, experts, cultural
artifacts, and authentic arts. (I have taken continuing education classes at this site and it is a
In conjunction, the students and I will take a tour of the neighboring Fond du Lac
Reservation’s Cultural Museum (http://www.fdlrez.com/Museum/index.htm) . In
preparation for this field trip, I will encourage students to write down questions or comments
they may have about the Native American people in our studies. These questions will be
answered by our museum guide. Students will take very brief notes during our field trip to
the college and FDL Reservation and will use this information for a large group discussion
when we return to the classroom. Prior to this discussion, however, students will briefly list
information they learned as a result of our trip and how this information will impact their
learning in our classroom and in our life experiences as community members.
As a result of our field trip to the Fond du Lac community, students will experience a deeper
and broader understanding of the Chippewa. Likewise, students will understand the many
differences and similarities between their own cultures and the culture of our neighbors to
the west. This field trip will serve as an integral part of our unit study on the Chippewa
culture of the past, present, and future because it will give students an opportunity to
connect their classroom knowledge of Native Americans to the authentic experiences of our
diverse neighbors who live in a nearby community. As Dr. Bridges taught us in Foundations
and Human Relations, it is important for all of us to find ways to relate to “others” in
authentic life experiences. This field trip will give my affluent, Anglo-American students a
worthwhile opportunity to appreciate others through, and despite, diversity.
Since this plan is more appropriate for older students, here’s my plan for young elementary-
Throughout our in-depth exploration of the Chippewa, I will invite FDL community experts
to help us understand the culture—past, present, and future. We will be fed authentic
information from the experts themselves. And as a result, my students will learn to shed
away the false perceptions and appreciate the Chippewa’s diverse, and very beautiful, culture.
In addition to our expert guests, I will saturate our learning environment with the Chippewa
culture throughout every center and all daily activities. Not only will we learn about the
food, music, and dress, but we will discover the history, the struggles for identity after the
invasion of European cultures, and the ways the Chippewa are able to keep their culture alive
To complete our unit, the students and I will take a field trip to the FDL Tribal/Community
College and the FDL Cultural Museum, where we will experience the Chippewa culture with
all of our senses in their environment.
Click here to read about the Fond du Lac Reservation Logo and its symbolic meaning behind
the circle, war shield, eagle feathers, hair-ties, arrowhead, eighth fire, and the term Nah-gah-