The relationship between Duluth and the city’s Indigenous people has always been more about the city keeping up appearances than truly advocating for native culture. Sure, Emily added women with indigenous backgrounds to her staff as the City Attorney and Community Relations Officer, she prominently celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, and strangely went to bat over the use of the word “chief” in city job titles, but what has she actually done for the city’s indigenous people?
Some might remember that Emily a City Councilor during the conflict between the Fond du Lac tribe and the City of Duluth when the agreement the city had with the tribe, to siphon $600,000 of revenue from the Fond du Luth Casino each year, was deemed illegal by the Bureau of Indian Affairs leading to a lawsuit that then, Councilor Emily Larson voted for several times. Over $1 million dollars was spent on the lawsuit before the two sides finally working out a settlement in her first term as Mayor. An agreement that has left the city struggling for road funds ever since.
More recently, it has come to our attention that requests from AICHO seeking to lease land to expand a program that includes helping youth learn ancestral ways of growing, harvesting, and using fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers have gone unanswered by the city. No mentions of the request appear in the notes from the Indigenous Commission’s virtual meeting notes from the last few months either, although there is plenty of mention of long-term problems with little or no action planned, like police accountability, opioids, homelessness, etc. One wonders why a simple, actionable request like AICHO’s is neglected?
In an April 26, Duluth New Tribune article the American Indian Community Housing Organization explained that they were seeking to lease land in the hillside neighborhood to expand their youth gardening program “Giinawiind Giginitaawigi’gomin” which means “Together we grow”. The group is working with the Department of Agriculture and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Center for Prevention. They’ve requested help from the city, but according to our reader, have had no response. In the News Tribune article, AICHO’s Children’s Program Coordinator, Katie Schmitz says, “We’re on traditional Anishinaabe land, but we don’t have access to it.”
Their goal was to have something ready by May 3rd, but that deadline has long past and the growing season for this summer is about spent.
Our reader suggested a win-win solution at a location that has received a lot of press lately – Duluth’s Point of Rocks. A few months ago a homeless encampment was removed at the Point of Rocks, which is owned by the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The removal left over 30,000 tons of garbage that was cleaned up by, not the city, but a volunteer, Reece Townsend who inspired other Duluth people and organizations to get involved.
The Point of Rocks location could be repurposed for a positive use very easily – and using the property to help build up the Indigenous community in Duluth is only appropriate, based on the property’s history.
The contentious and interesting history of the Point of Rocks goes back nearly two hundred years with the Treaty of 1854 between the City of Duluth’s and Chief Buffalo of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa.
The City of Duluth allowed Chief Buffalo to gift one square mile of the land the tribe had just given up in the treaty to the Chief’s adopted son, Benjamin Armstrong, a white man who had helped facilitate the treaty between the city and the tribe. Together they paddled up the St. Louis River and visually chose a section of land. A year later, when it was surveyed, a portion of the land ended up in Lake Superior. By this time Chief Buffalo had died so his family picked the new square-mile, legally described as The southwest quarter of Section 22, Township 50 North, Range 14 West. The east half of the northeast quarter of Section 28 and west half of the northwest quarter of Section 27, Township 50 North, Range 14 West. The southeast quarter of Section 28, Township 50 North, Range 14 West. The west half of the southwest quarter Section 27, Township 50 North, Range 14 West and Lot 3 in Section 34 and Lot 5 in Section 27, which comprises parts of Lincoln Park, Rice’s Point, Central Hillside, Canal Park, Downtown, and the Point of Rocks. The true owner of the land is still a question as the property was sold by Armstrong and another man who, it is said, did not hold the patents to the land. The recent casino kerfuffle brought up this issue and whether the tribe should sue to get back their land according to the treaty.
Over the years the Point of Rocks has been more than just a rocky cliff face at the base of Mesaba Avenue. In its long history, it held houses for French, and then Italian immigrants, the rocks were painted and plastered with advertisements, and in 1919 an artist was hired to try and carve the rock Mount Rushmore-style into the faces of the European founders of the city – can you even imagine! But its recent use as a homeless encampment is an indication of how far Duluth has fallen. Wouldn’t it be ideal to make strides in improving Duluth in a positive way by honoring the indigenous people in our city who want to raise the next generation of their people with the skills and knowledge of their ancestors? Wouldn’t a youth garden at this site be a positive change, and perhaps the most appropriate use of this land in all of its history?
While the City of Duluth ignores this simple ask, the City Councilors in Superior, Wisconsin just voted to “right a wrong” and return native burial sites on Wisconsin Point to the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. With state and federal approval, the land will transfer back to the band.
Allowing AICHO to expand their youth garden program to the Point of Rocks area would not only improve that piece of property but hopefully prevent the return of the homeless encampment. Hopefully, Duluth City Councilors and Mayor Larson will step to pay more than lip service to our local indigenous and actually support this minimal ask in the tribe’s efforts to preserve their culture in our city.