“We are honoring the generations of proud Anishinaabe people and their tireless work that has set the stage to make this historic signing possible,” the Ojibwe tribe wrote on Facebook. The restoration of ancient burial grounds near Superior, Wisconsin, has inspired celebration among an Ojibwe tribe in northern Minnesota.
On the mainland in Superior, in St. Francis Cemetery, the bodies of the Ojibwe Tribe were reinterred in a mass burial in 1919. The bodies were transported to make room for U.S. Steel’s plans to construct a wharf for iron ore and other infrastructure.
Superior native Lorrie Madden, a 66-year-old descendant of Osaugie said, “They took 198 graves, and they moved them by scow (a type of barge) down the Nemadji River to St. Francis Cemetery where then they put them into graves there,”
However, according to Kevin DuPuis, chairman of the Fond du Lac Tribal Council, the project was abandoned after the corporation removed the remains of his relatives. The Ojibwe tribe explained in a release, “Approximately 180 remains from the most identifiable graves were disinterred, including at least one chief – Chief Joseph Osaugie (1802-1876) and placed in a mass grave near St. Francis Xavier cemetery, on the Nemadji River,”
Prior to the community celebration, the church had already deeded lands to the tribe, and Rev. James Tobolski expressed hope that their return would lead to deeper reconciliation.
The documents for both parcels of land—the 1.6-acre swap includes a 0.2-acre plot at Wisconsin Point and approximately 1.4 acres near Superior’s St. Francis Cemetery, where tribal members’ remains were reburied—were signed by Superior Mayor Jim Paine.
“Your grit, your determination, your relentless effort to seek justice for your ancestors has begun to mend the tears in the fabric of your community made a century ago,” Newland said.
Tony Evers, the governor of Wisconsin, and Bryan Newland, the assistant secretary for American Indian affairs, were among the prominent lawmakers at the ceremony. President Biden ordered the restoration of tribal lands as a priority, such as the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior.
Evers explained how the state shares responsibility with the federal government for recognizing the pain inflicted on tribal communities then and now. “This is your land.It has always been your land….We’re happy to see this important path to justice move forward.”