Magazine: Grand Portage Band a partner in park

"In 1729 a Cree Indian named Auchagah gave a French explorer a simple map drawn on birch bark, using bits of charcoal. It depicted a chain of lakes, rivers, and overland portages that would allow anyone in a kayak or a canoe to travel from Lake Superior deep into the uncharted western wilderness. The route began with a rocky 8.5-mile footpath that Indians called Kitchi Onigaming (Ojibwe for “the Great Carrying Place”), which the French would later name Grand Portage.

Auchagah’s map revealed a convenient route into a region flush with beaver, muskrat, bear, and fox. A thriving fur trade would soon flourish at the juncture of Superior’s banks and the start of Grand Portage, where the trail from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River winds through volcano-scarred cliffs, dense forests, and a 120-foot-high waterfall aptly called High Falls. It’s probably no surprise that the following centuries brought radical change to people native to the region.

Indians would be forced to bargain for and yield titles to their lands. They would be shuttled onto reservations. And they would be encouraged to give up their traditional ways. They would hear promises made and witness promises broken. It’s a story not unlike that told at dozens of national park units across the country.

But now at the little-known Grand Portage National Monument, the Park Service is reversing the direction of that legacy through a unique agreement. Rather than push Indians away, the agreement attempts to bring them back.

Negotiated under a law known as the Indian Self-Governance Act, the agreement makes the Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewa Indians a partner in operating the park. It accords the band responsibility for all of the park’s maintenance duties, for which the band receives one-quarter of the park’s annual budget.

But the self-governance agreement is only one of many ways in which the band and park have worked together, says Superintendent Tim Cochrane. The two groups have also collaborated on dozens of other projects. “There is a merger of fortunes and perspectives going on at this tiny little park that usually doesn’t go on,” says Cochrane. “It’s been mutually beneficial.”"

Get the Story:
A Turnaround at Grand Portage (National Parks Magazine Spring 2008)