TOWER—Mesaba, Biwabik, Kawishiwi, Saganaga—these northern Minnesota place names are among many easily recognized as having native origins associated with the region’s indigenous …
TOWER—Mesaba, Biwabik, Kawishiwi, Saganaga—these northern Minnesota place names are among many easily recognized as having native origins associated with the region’s indigenous Ojibwe residents.
Many other original names are lost to history. However, thanks to 19th-century archives, one of the nation’s most significant concentrations of original names and meanings exist for this area—and those names are going back on the map.
In collaboration with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, the non-profit Ely Folk School (EFS) and volunteer artists have completed a two-year project to create a map of the band’s traditional realm. This includes a 100-mile expanse of boreal forest from Lake Vermilion to Nett Lake and entails over 100 original names and meanings.
The map was designed by Bois Forte artist Louise Isham and crafted on a hand-painted historic template by artisanal map maker Keith Myrmel.
EFS board member and Bois Forte Band member Rick Anderson said this project was a natural extension of the school’s mission to serve as a bridge between the region’s native and non-native residents.
“This map highlights our region’s native heritage and our Ojibwe ancestors who’ve lived here for hundreds of years,” he said. “This map underscores our voice and roots in the region.”
Anderson noted that the map includes sidebars with historical information about the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, their chiefs, and their traditions.
Copies of the map’s first limited edition printing will be available through an Ely Folk School fundraiser. Discussions are in the works for maps to be sold at the Bois Forte Heritage Center and Cultural Museum, area businesses, and possibly online.
The project was prompted by a similar map of native place names for Quetico Park.
“We wondered if something similar could be done for our area and, sure enough, we found the names,” said EFS board member Paul Schurke. “This project is a Minnesota first.”
The map will be unveiled at the Bois Forte Heritage Center near Fortune Bay Resort Casino at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month and an intertribal gathering at Fortune Bay. Center director Jaylen Strong said the public is invited to the free event and to view the center’s many exhibits on Bois Forte’s history.
For more information call Rick Anderson at 218-235-0138 or Jaylen Strong at 218-753-6017.