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Inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the Apostolic Islands National Lakeshore Administration

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The inclusion of indigenous people in the management of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore would be an act of environmental justice and vital to the climate change action and adaptation plans that the government has in place for this park.

The land, once inhabited and revered by native populations, would benefit from sustainable practices that are used by indigenous people and by their traditional viewpoints on their relationship with land and nature. The current climate change plan put forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior could be modified to include local indigenous input to create a more universal plan that would reintroduce indigenous ideology back into the region. Indigenous involvement in the management of this national park and others would be beneficial to tribes and to the parks themselves.

Indigenous people would be granted some control over lands that they once inhabited while the concepts they plan on implementing would beneficial to the forest and island ecosystems in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


As we continually learn more about how The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will be impacted by climate change and how we manage the park will change due to this issue, it is imperative to include new voices to adapt to a changing environment. Culturally, the indigenous people of this area had a more sustainable approach when viewing mother nature. “The ability of indigenous communities to survive was developed with their understanding of self within place.

From this understanding, humans learned values of respect, humility, honesty, bravery, love, wisdom and truth. These values are applicable in most interactions of the Anishinaabeg people and can be closely considered when understanding an Anishinaabe perspective on climate change and adaptation.” (Bresette, et al, 2019). Listening to the indigenous people who originally inhabited the islands and the surrounding areas would offer another viewpoint to a serious problem facing the national park.

The Ojibwe people of this area have already faced eviction from the land and have their voices muted, the reintroduction of their voices would be an act of environmental justice and a start to a new collaboration of ideologies concerning natural resources. This collaboration could change how we manage these National Parks and assist in the integration of sustainable methods of land management.


Created in 1970, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Northern Wisconsin consists of 21 islands and a stretch of 12 miles of shoreline on the mainland, it covers 69,372 acres and was once considered tribal lands. Originally inhabited by the Ojibwe people, they traveled the islands to gather resources that sustained them throughout the seasons. The Ojibwe took only what they needed and were grateful for what they were able they took from nature. “The Ojibwe had great respect for the land and all that it had to offer. Nothing was taken without something given in return. Offerings of food and tobacco (made from red willow) were made to the spirits. When the life of an animal was taken the whole body was used, not letting anything go to waste.” (Home of the Ojibwe).

The principles that the Ojibwe held placed importance on the way that they used the land and knew it was vital to have a balance. In the 1660’s, European settlers (many French) came to the area and found the resources the area offered bountiful. Fur trading became very popular until the 1830’s and was replaced by the fishing and logging industries. After the European settlers arrived, the Ojibwe were forced into restricted areas that the U.S. government made smaller and smaller throughout the years. In 1854, Ojibwe reservations were created along the northern Wisconsin coastline, including the Red Cliff Reservation.

Gaylord Nelson, the democratic senator for Wisconsin at the time and founder of Earth Day, first drafted a bill to protect the area that included parts of the land granted to the Ojibwe tribe by an 1854 treat with the U.S. government.

The Ojibwe did not want to give up their ancestral land and opposed it, writing a formal letter to the senator. While Nelson changed his mind, the U.S. Department of the Interior did not, the land was still taken from the tribe, but they still retained hunting and fishing rights to the islands. This action is representative of how indigenous people are marginalized and how national parks are land grabs for native people’s rightful land. The tribe did maintain a small portion of land on Madeline Island which is not officially a part of the National Lakeshore.

According to Professor Patty Loew an Ojibwe member,’ ’Madeline island or Moningwunakauning became the center of the Ojibwe universe. It was the center of our economic system, it was where our religious center was, it was the cultural center for the Ojibwe people for our ceremonies and for trade. It became really important and is why the Ojibwe people were not willing to have it part of a national lakeshore. We love lakeshores, we love parks, but we have so little left of the land that we were able to reserve for ourselves’” (Dresang, 2017). While retaining a small parcel of land on only one of twenty-two islands, the Ojibwe lost a natural resource that was vital to their survival and heritage.

Flora & Fauna

While indigenous populations had little impact on the area, European settlers were a different story. The settlers brought with them their consumer approach to nature. Logging was a giant industry in the area, decimating tree populations and endangering key species like the American Larch (Tamarack), logging would lead to an altered ecosystem. “Beginning in the 1880s, large-scale logging followed by forest fires transformed these forests. When the forests eventually regenerated, hardwoods, especially aspen and birch, replaced pine trees. Spruce trees were better able than pines to regenerate. Spruce-fir forests are now managed for long-term harvesting, and plantations of red pine have been planted. The Lake Superior region is once again covered by extensive forests, but these forests are quite different than they were in the seventeenth century” (Davis, et al. 2000).

Overfishing took a toll on the whitefish populations within the lake and the mining of sandstone increased the rate of erosion. Fur traders left their mark on the islands and lakeshore by overhunting mammals to earn their living. Swanston (2011) discusses the impact these species had, with their numbers dropping significantly shortly after European fur traders came to the area. There were noticeable declines in red fox, caribou, black bear and wolf populations. The use of nature by non-indigenous people had a dramatic effect on the landscape and makeup of flora and fauna. The region had a diverse population of trees and plants, with some of those species making a comeback after restoration efforts were applied. The settlers viewed themselves a s a consumer of nature not as a component of it.

Cultural Impacts

The creation of the national park in 1970 took land away from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, a prime example of Native American land dispossession. According to Carroll (2013), national parks and other conservation efforts, often continue “taking” from indigenous people, offering the green movement and conservation as their defense. While these actions were noble intent, excluding the indigenous people in these projects perpetuates the cycle of taking from native people and muting their voices. The creation of national parks and other conservation projects could incorporate native voices, making their actions a step in the right direction towards environmental justice and make amends for the past.

The silencing of these people has a dangerous side effect on the population. “Loss of traditional rights can reduce peoples’ interest in long-term stewardship of the land and therefore the creation of a protected area can in some cases increase the rate of damage to the very values that the protected area was originally created to preserve. Putting a fence around a protected area seldom creates a long-term solution to problems of disaffected local communities, whether or not it is ethically justified”. (Colchester, 2004). People can scream as loud as they want but when no one is listening one soon begins to stop caring.

Climate Impacts

Gitchi Gami, or Lake Superior, and the surrounding lakeshore are now facing impacts due to climate change. These changes include a higher rate of erosion due to changing weather patterns, an influx of invasive species due to warming water temperatures, the loss of native cold hearty tree species and the loss of cold-water fish species. The return of indigenous voices that dictate how this national park is managed can help adapt to these changes and help reduce the magnitude of they will have on the area by working together with the government that once removed them from the land.

Climate Change will forever alter the forests of this region, soil and water quality, nutrients and carbon storage will all be affected. Huff et al (2014), highlights how climate change will change the makeup of many species on land and in the waters of Lake Superior. Higher temperatures and precipitation levels will have an impact on forest diversity, these ecosystems will change from cold hardy tree species to more warm weather tolerant species. Like the over logging and fires in the past, climate change will dictate what type of forest can grow in these new conditions.

The changing forests only exacerbate problems in other area, they impact other species, decreasing the area which is habitable to them. “Due to vegetation shifts, and thus habitat shifts, parks may experience a shift in mammalian species greater than anything documented in the geologic record. This prediction is based on the idea that species will change location as a group. Several researchers have concluded that rapid changes on the order of 20 to 50 years are possible” (Schramm, et al, 2010). As we know, in nature, there is an interconnectedness within the ecosystem, if you remove one thing it is likely the others will fall.

Indigenous Climate Change Plans and Strategies

Today, indigenous people do have a plan to combat climate change, many reservations have created tribal national parks, parks where they are the voice and leading authority. They have already seen some of the damaging effects of a changing climate. ‘The tribes and First Nations in the basin are already working to create a more resilient future. Wild rice is particularly important to the Anishinaabe, but it is also vulnerable to heavy spring floods and autumn drought — two increasingly frequent events predicted in most climate models for Lake Superior. (Langston, 2017).

In this section there are strategies put in place by tribes to ease the impact of climate change on their land and I would suggest those be heard and taken into considerations when thinking about federally managed national parks. The Tribal Adaptation Menu Team (Bresette et al, 2019), is an action plan that was put together by Ojibwe and Menominee partners in the Great Lake region to offer their take on the changing environment due to climate change. In the document they highlight key concepts that can be introduced to adapt to the changing climates and to help native species withstand some of the changes they face. Bresette, et al (2019) created the document to empower local tribes and to educate state and federal governments along with private landowners how to incorporate the Anishinaabeg perspective into their climate adaptation strategy.

The first concept that Bresette et al (2019) discusses is “learning through cultural and respectful observations”. This would include the idea that plants and animals can teach us about the environment if we watch and listen carefully. The idea promotes that man is not the controlling nature and that observation of non-human beings that live on the natural communities would help us better understand how climate change would affect them and their surroundings. Another suggestion the document gives is to “reduce the impact of biological and anthropogenic stressors”. The authors stress the importance of creating a monitoring network that help understand the impacts the area is going through; it also suggests encouraging the population of native species that are beneficial like bees or other pollinators.

Bresette et al. (2019) also suggest that reducing the “risk of long-term impacts of disturbances” would be a beneficial to climate change adaptation plans. This includes the practice of selective logging which creates less fuel loads for natural wildfires. The document makes note that sustainable practices need to be implemented to “maintain and revitalize cultural approaches to harvesting and caretaking”, this includes using Ojibwe and Menominee harvesting methods. These methods serve as a climate adaptation tool that would help provide a balance to ecosystem that is under stress from the altering climate. One of the key aspects of sustainable harvesting methods is the notion that you only take what you need, and not taking all of something so that there is growth of that natural resource for future uses.

Practices like these would have helped back in the 1800’s when the logging industry forever changed the ecosystem by over logging practices and the fires that resulted after. The Apostle Islands and National Lakeshore and other national parks need to be managed and healthy ecosystems need to be maintained. The use of indigenous methods and ideology when considering these plans need to be taken into account, ““native American land management practices could revive the processes needed to maintain the classic ecosystems and cultural integrity of our national parks. (Anderson et al.). The concepts put forth by the Ojibwe and other tribes would help with climate change adaptation strategies put forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior.


The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was once the land that the Ojibwe people used to survive. The natural resources they took to survive were taken with gratitude and was respected, a concept that seems to be missing from modern culture. Climate change has already started to alter the land of the park but is still missing the indigenous voices that have been here for centuries. The management of land in a national park is complicated, there are different ecosystems that need to be considered separately and how they interact with each other. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will see tremendous change with warmer weather, warmer lake temperatures and lower lake water levels.

Erosion will carve out a new face for the park and it will not look or act the way it does today. By listening to indigenous voices, better land management practices can be implemented to help deal with climate change and to stop further degradation of the land. As noted in above, there are techniques and ideologies we can include within our management of national parks, but it is necessary to include the indigenous populations to make sure they are enacted and practiced the right way. It is important to give the indigenous people back their voices and have a say in the way land is being used and how it is managed and maintained. The creation of the and other like it has good intentions, wanting to save nature and the preserve beautiful scenery tries to be honorable but it can’t be without the people who have been on the land the longest.

The management of the park without these voices and wisdom of indigenous people creates another dilemma, it erases the hardships that they endured and obscures how unfair the treaties and governmental practices were that took the lands away from them on the first place. Letting their voices be heard would be beneficial to the health of the parks by implementing some of the methods discussed above. The inclusion of native people would also be a step towards environmental justice by hearing the voice of the original inhabitants of the land and would allow the tribe to have a more meaningful connection to the land they once held in such high regard.

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