Art For Indigenous Survival

Anishinaabeg People of White Earth, Minnesota

In late May of 2009, Irma and I journeyed to Minnesota where we were joined by Julie Kaeser for a month with the people called Chippewa/Ojibway by the French and English explorers in the 1700's. We settled in to teach Soft Sculpture at the Congregate Housing Unit starting on Eastern Bluebirds. We then moved on to Loons and finished with Bald Eagles.

Woman making soft sculpture loon

The ladies and gentlemen at Congregate were a pleasure to get to know. They welcomed us and over the month told stories of the history of the tribe and the loss of their reservation land. White Earth Reservation was established in 1867 as a home for the Mississippi Band Chippewa and other woodland Indians of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In 1889, the US government passed an Allotment Act which resulted in the people losing 80% of their reservation land. The Northern Pacific Railroad collaborated with lumber and ore companies to lure immigrants from Northern Europe to settle in Minnesota, often on land granted to the Indians. Today, only small pockets of reservation land actually belong to Native Peoples. We were fortunate to be present for the 141st Annual Powwow to celebrate the 1867 birth date of White Earth.


As the month drew to a close, eagles were being finished. Jenny Mae did a superb soft sculpture.

Jenny Mae with eagle soft sculpture

And on the last day everyone gathered for the group picture.

Group Picture

Today the Anishinaabeg are struggling to reclaim their culture, their language, their traditions of gathering wild rice and maple sugar, and their land. The white farmers surrounding them are aging - average age for whites is 57, the average for natives is 18. Some whites and natives have intermarried. Some whites have sold out to the Tribe or their children have given up on the family farm to flee to the cities. Maybe someday White Earth will truly belong to the Anishinaabeg People.