Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, filled the Superior City Council chambers Tuesday, July 20.
Singers gathered around a drum to set the rhythm as the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Honor Guard, Indigenous veterans of the nation’s armed services, moved forward to place the Band’s flag in a stand and unfurl it before city officials. After minutes of solemn reverence, they danced in traditional Ojibwe fashion around the flag that represents their heritage.
The ceremony set the stage as councilors directed the city’s administration to work toward placing sacred lands in the care of the Anishinaabe people.
More than a century after the U.S. Steel Company exhumed about 198 graves on Wisconsin Point and reburied them in 29 plots south of the St. Francis Cemetery, the council unanimously approved returning the burial grounds on Wisconsin Point and the Ojibwe Reburial Site on the northern bank of the Nemadji River to the Fond du Lac Band. The graves were moved in 1918 to make way for ore docks that were never built.
The council's action is the first step to place both sites in a federal trust under the Band's stewardship.
Victor St. George is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Superior, an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a descendant of Chief Joseph Osaugie, a leader of the people who inhabited Wisconsin Point in the 1800s.
“This is something that I think needs to be done,” he told the council. “We’re never going to right the wrongs that were done but we can at least honor what should be.”
Kevin DuPuis, tribal council chairman of the Fond du Lac Band, said he has visited Wisconsin Point and St. Francis Cemetery nearly every month since he returned from the Marine Corps in 1990.
“Sometimes I don’t know why. What I know is that with the schedule I have, if I’m free on a Monday or Tuesday, I’m on my way to Wisconsin Point and St. Francis Cemetery," he said. "I know when you get there you feel a peace, an ease.”
DuPuis said the city council’s action offers hope and closure for the families.
“It’s not about the atrocities that happened,” DuPuis said. “That’s history. It’s not going to change, and it’s a dark history. But we need to be optimistic about where we’re sitting and move forward with different things and try to find a way to recognize and realize that we’re all humans. This is an act of humanity.”
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle spearheaded the project by researching the history, working with members of the Fond du Lac Band and proposing a resolution.
“We’re building a strong foundation across governments, state lines, across cultures, across generations — one of trust, humor, respect and friendship,” Van Sickle said.