Every year on the last Wednesday in July, Anishinaabe people and their allies gather at Big Sandy Lake in northern Minnesota to commemorate the deaths of their ancestors while celebrating their perseverance and foresight. The event, which is hosted by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, takes place near the Mikwendaagoziwag (We Remember Them) Memorial—a stone and plaque commemorating the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. In that year, the Lake Superior Bands of Ojibwe were illegally forced to remove from their homes along to southern edge of Lake Superior to Sandy Lake in Minnesota Territory. But government officials did not provide promised rations or supplies and as a result more than 150 Ojibwe died at Sandy Lake. Then, because Minnesota’s Territorial governor intentionally delayed payment in order to trap the Ojibwe, another 230 died trying to return to their homelands in harsh winter conditions.
Today the Ojibwe mourn for and celebrate their ancestors beginning with a canoe paddle across Sandy Lake. When paddlers arrive on the opposite side of the lake they are welcomed and honored. Then, all those gathered are provided a free meal and given time to relax and socialize. The Mikwendaagoziwag Memorial Event closes with a time of ceremony, healing, and discussion. Numerous tribal leaders stood before the crowd of hundreds to talk about the sacrifices of their ancestors and the importance of remembering the Sandy Lake Tragedy so that it never happens again. But they also spoke of gratitude, expressing a great sense of thankfulness for everything they have and an appreciation for the wisdom of their leaders who, in 1854, earned a new treaty that gave them permanent reservation homes in their homeland.
It was a joy and a privilege to be a part of the 2019 Mikwendaagoziwag Memorial Event. I invite everyone to learn more about this history and to share it with others. A pamphlet published by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission provides an excellent overview and can be found here: https://files.constantcontact.com/7e1eef04401/dd6948ca-6033-4a17-9599-7a86f18856d8.pdf. You can also learn more by reading the novel Resisting Removal: The Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850.