On an unusually warm November day, the Indian Scout and I headed for Lake Superior’s Wisconsin Point to gauge the trash situation. To our relief, not much garbage marred the famous three-mile sand bar for which FDL Band Members once literally fought tooth and nail.
That’s right – “Old Warrior” Frank Lemieux, who died in 1902, defended by rifle point his right to continue to live on Wisconsin Point until the steel and land companies wore him and others down. Frank was my great-great grandfather.
The FDL Band has attempted to purchase some Wisconsin Point property now owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The drawn-out bureaucratic process is stuck in limbo in the federal Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C.
Last summer officials with the city of Superior, Wis. took measures to cut back on the trash dumped at Wisconsin Point. Those measures included an increase in fines (from $100 to $1000) and closed curfew hours for vehicles at the end of the Point.
Superior city staff removes the abandoned household appliances, computers and construction debris, said Mary Morgan, Director of the Superior Parks and Recreation Department. Volunteer groups sometimes organize, receive plastic trash bags from the Department and pick up trash.
We picked up potato chip bags, two empty beer cans, a Camel cigarettes package, two plastic pop bottles and an unidentifiable plastic tube. The roadsides contain larger bits of garbage but the amount decreases the further you drive in.
The gradual decline of garbage pleased the Indian Scout, who is especially sensitive about the 300-year-old Ojibwe cemetery on the Point. He sprinkled tobacco near the stones and the placard explaining the area’s history, and advised me not to photograph a red beaded necklace hanging 40 feet from the ground on an old pine tree branch. Whoever climbed that tree had to be young, he said.
As the Scout approached the placard, I saw an eagle sweep across the sky to the east. It seemed to float out of view. I hollered for the Scout to look but he missed it. We walked in the general direction of the eagle past a circular clearing with a fire pit and over a ridge. The roar of the mighty lake welcomed us.
The Scout glanced east down the beach and spotted the eagle at a distance, seated on a fork-like branch. I snapped off more pictures.
We turned back for the cemetery, picking up small bits of trash, happily taking pictures, basking in all the out-of-doors-ness. So this is why Grandpa Frank fought so hard. No wonder.
I noted a pathway. Something has been through here, I told the Scout.
Deer, he said. You found a deer path.
We returned to the monster truck as the sun sank behind thick narrow pine trees. The truck ambled past a surprisingly glass-like Lake Superior cove where 30 ducks swam. Imagine this 200 years ago, the Scout said. You would have seen a million ducks. The nets would have been pulled in about now. You’d have fish for supper.
The conversation back to the Rez on Interstate 35 South took many turns. We drove by an overpass where sweet grass grows.
“How did you know to look there?” I asked.
“I know what to look for,” the Scout said.
I thought for a minute.
“I saw an eagle and a deer path before you did!” I said. The Scout smiled.
“Finally all of this is rubbing off,” the Scout said. “We’re getting all that urbanization out of you. The Indian in you was there all along.”
For a couple years, now, various FDL Indian Scouts have taken me to points near and far with cultural and historical significance to the Ojibwe people. Each adventure brought something new to think about.
On that late November day, I thought about Frank Lemieux and the Wisconsin judge who dismissed the Ojibwe claims to the land.
Eventually the Fond du Lac Band must reclaim as much of Wisconsin Point as is possible. Our grandfathers and grandmothers would heartily approve.
Volunteers interested in combing Wisconsin Point to remove trash are invited to call Mary Morgan, Director of the Superior Parks and Recreation Dept. at (715) 395-7279. Plastic bags will be provided.
Deborah Locke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org