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Superior seeks national historic designation for Wisconsin Point, once an Ojibwe burial site

Offerings rest on a monument on Wisconsin Point. (Telegram file)

Wisconsin Point was a campsite and burial place for native people until the 20th century, when U.S. Steel had a plan to build an ore dock on the sandy point off the Allouez Bay.

Then, people were forced to leave and the remains of their ancestors were disinterred and placed in a mass grave at the St. Francis cemetery in Superior. According to the Diocese of Superior, only about 180 of the most recognized graves, including the grave of Chief Joseph Osaugie, were interred at the St. Francis mass grave.

It was only later determined that Wisconsin Point was too sandy to construct an ore dock.

Still, Wisconsin Point remains a place of traditional importance for members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and an effort is underway to garner national recognition of Wisconsin Point, which served as a campsite and burial site for the Ojibwe for centuries.

The city of Superior and Wisconsin Historical Society are working to place a portion of Wisconsin surrounding the tribal monument on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We are pretty confident ... there is evidence of Ojibwe occupation," said John Broihahn, state archeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society. He said while there was no subsurface examination of the area and little is known about the early history of the Ojibwe on the point, pre-contact, the Historical Society is comfortable with what it knows about more contemporary uses of the point by the Ojibwe people.

The boundaries for the site would extend from the access road to the bird sanctuary on the bay side of Wisconsin Point and extend south to about Lot 15, sites that were mapped in 1915 in the forested area on the point, Broihahn said.

"Wisconsin Point ... is a beautiful place," Broihahn said. "A nomination out there will present some interesting challenges for us."

He said for sites like this, the location information would usually be somewhat restricted, but because the application is for Wisconsin Point, restricting the location would present a challenge.

Douglas County Supervisor Keith Allen questioned what kinds of restrictions listing the point on the national registry would place on the city if there was work to be done out there such as road improvements.

After reviewing the plans for the Wisconsin Point dune restoration plan, Broihahn said he doesn't believe that project, which is expected to be complete next fall, would have any impact on the nomination process.

Broihahn said the city would be required to consult with the Historical Society to ensure that solutions could be found for any negative impacts. He said if an agreement couldn't be reached, the city could still do the work.

Broihahn said the goal is to have a bid in place next month to accomplish some of the additional background research that needs to be done for the application, with a site visit planned for April or early May.

"Roughly in the summer sometime, it will be sent to the review board," said Linda Cadotte, Superior parks, recreation and forestry director. After that, it would go to the National Park Service for review, she said, adding it could be mid- to late 2020 before a determination is made.

"Linda is right. Sometime in 2020, but probably summer or early fall in 2020 before it was officially designated by the Park Service," Broihahn said.

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