Lake Superior is known to the Anishinaabe as Gitchi Gumee. It is a cultural and environmental anchor which binds the bands of all the Great Lakes Ojibwe, including those in Canada.
While much has changed in recent decades, tribes maintain a healthy fishing tradition that includes large and small boats, tribal fisheries, and fish markets around Lake Superior. Treaty harvest is strictly regulated by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is charged with ensuring tribal fishermen adhere to the many regulations of commercial fishing. Tribal members also fish for subsistence, traditional medicines and to be outdoors with Gitchi Gumee.
Lake Superior was hit particularly hard by the invasion of the exotic sea lamprey as well as intensive commercial fishing. Since then, tribes have taken a strong position when it comes to fish conservation and treaty rights.
Manoomin, or "the good berry" is a sacred wetland plant to the Ojibwe. Years ago, the Ojibwe migrated from the east and, according to prophecy, would know their homeland when they found the "food that grows on water". For centuries, the Ojibwe have known home is where the wild rice grows in the shallow lakes and rivers of the northern Great Lakes. Today it is part of the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe stories, traditions, medicines, and diet.
The Ojibwe place vast resources into the protection, study, and restoration of wild rice. The Kakagon Sloughs at Bad River is one of the most sensitive and pristine wild rice stands in the world. Due to its proximity to the proposed mine, many at Bad River are hoping others will take the time to understand wild rice and its importance to the Anishinaabe.
After a long, dark, and cold winter, the spring walleye harvest was critical to Anishinaabe survival. Done right after the ice breaks and when the bigger fish are near the shallow shores, spearing walleye has become synonymous with Ojibwe endurance.
During the 1980's, walleye spearing also triggered a decade long court battle to protect a right reserved in the treaties made in the 19th century. Many non-Native groups loudly protested the spearing in often ugly and racist ways. It was a turbulent time but today spearing has returned as a regular spring tradition without giant protests at boat landings. The fish populations and spearing activities are heavily managed and recorded by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Sugarbush is iskigamizigan in Ojibwe. The maple sugar and sap is a delicious treat after a long cold winter. In the early spring, usually March or early April, tribal members venture to traditional family sugarbush stands. Many of these are the same maple trees tapped in a family for several generations.
Like other plant uses, tapping maple trees was a practice passed on from the Native people to Eureopeans. Little has changed in practice and ingenuity. Modern tree tapping looks much like it did centuries ago.
Iskigamizigan, like manoomin, has come to symbolize a sovereign woodland plant. They are not planted on farms or managed like a crop. They are gifts to be used in a traditional way and bring families together every year. Children are especially drawn to the sugarbush and tapping traditions.