Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center
Photo by Travis Novitsky
When the Grand Portage Band donated the property, it was with the understanding that the National Park Service and the federal government would invest in an infrastructure to preserve the heritage and promote tourism.
Both parties have common ground in the collaboration between the Grand Portage Band and the Park Service.
A Promise for Revitalizing the Economy
In 1958, the Grand Portage Band donated part of its land inside its reservation to the National Park Service to establish the site of the Grand Portage National Monument. Tribal members hoped that the new park unit, complete with a visitor center and museum, would revitalize the reservation's struggling economy and bring jobs to Grand Portage. However, as time passed, the visitor center and the promised jobs didn't come about.
Federal Self-Governance Legislation
In the 1960's the American government began shifting from centuries of racial injustice to endorsing the concepts of Indian self-determination and sovereign tribal government. This change prompted legislation called the Tribal Self-Governance Act which gave tribes the authority and the funding to take control over federal programs that serve or benefit the tribes themselves.
A Long Process of Negotiation
Norman Deschampe, the Grand Portage Band tribal chairman, and other tribal leaders thought a self-governance agreement might work at Grand Portage. However, it took almost five decades of negotiating and persuasion to convince the federal government and Congress to fully fund the visitor center which would be known as the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center.
Furthering the Relationship Between the Tribe and the Park
The Grand Portage Band and the National Park Service have always had a good relationship. Since 1999, joint efforts between the Grand Portage Band and the National Park Service have strengthened to include park maintenance, a summer mentoring program for Grand Portage teens sponsored by the monument, working together on the annual Rendezvous Days, and the sharing of some municipal services.
The Fulfillment of a 50-Year Old Promise
The Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center opened on August 10, 2007 with a commitment to honor the area's history, people and culture. The 16,600-square-foot, $4 million building is located on a rocky hill overlooking the reconstructed fur-trading post. It features pine pillars that rise from the basement to the roofs pointing out the Four Cardinal Directions important in Ojibwe culture. The building houses exhibit galleries about Ojibwe culture and the fur trade, a bookstore, multi-media programs, park offices, archives and a classroom.