Administrative History
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PART II: (continued)


Ceding land back to the Federal Government once it is set aside as an Indian Reservation guaranteed by treaty is a rare occurrence. It is the principal reason why congressional action on Grand Portage did not take place until 1958. Prior to this action, debates raged within the local Reservation Business Committee (RBC) and the Minnesota Chippewa's Tribal Executive Committee (TEC) on whether to approve the national monument and thereby relinquish reservation land to the Government.

Bitter opposition to the measure was in large part overcome by three local individuals: Judge C. R. Magney (Shroeder), a State Judge from Cook County; Mrs. Effie McLean (Hovland), President of the Cook County Historical Society (CCHS); and Alton Bramer (Grand Marais), member and business agent of the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Another lobbyist was a private citizen from Ely, Minnesota, Sigurd F. Olson, who had ties with the Wilderness Society. These community leaders were trusted and respected figures who engaged in impassioned debates before the various Indian councils arguing the merits of establishing the national monument. Backed by the CCHS, MHS, and 8th District Minnesota Representative John Blatnik from Duluth, these lobbyists succeeded in obtaining the RBC and TEC's concurrence.

The final agreement was submitted to the 85th Congress and approved on September 2, 1958, as Public Law 85-910. Under the dictates of the legislation, the national monument was not established until the land allotments were acquired by the Federal Government. Within the proposed boundaries, acreage of the Grand Portage Band amounted to 258, while Minnesota Chippewa tribal lands totaled 50 acres. Nineteen months later, when the trust lands were relinquished from all but the private allottees, the Secretary of the Interior revoked the 1951 order designating the national historic site. On March 31, 1960, the Federal Register carried the Secretary's Notice of Establishment of Grand Portage National Monument (See Appendix B). [13]

The enormous task of restoring the fur trade depot lay ahead. In July 1960, the CCHS gave the National Park Service the Crawford Log Cabin, located within the stockade, as well as all the exhibits in the Great Hall's museum. The CCHS also offered its cooperation in the future development of the national monument. The donated displays consisted of 258 items, 8 glass cases, and several boxes of artifacts from the 1937 expedition. Additional items given the National Park Service were snow shoes, two large and three small birch bark canoes, and photostatic copies of original Hudson's Bay Company documents. The donation was a valuable head start in the NPS interpretive effort. [14]

Since the 1940 establishment of Isle Royale National Park, the Superintendent of that NPS reserve kept an unofficial "close eye" on Grand Portage. The main reason for this interest was because an Isle Royale embarkation point was at the Grand Portage dock. Additionally, since the Advisory Board indicated interest in the site as early as 1936, the Park Service had payed increased attention to this potential future accession.

On August 21, 1960, Isle Royale's unofficial "supervision" ended when Eliot Davis, Grand Portage's first Superintendent, began his duties at an office in Grand Marais, 40 miles to the south. Davis was charged with the responsibility of supervising major restoration projects to transform the monument to its appearance 200 years ago. He was immediately confronted with a problem which every one of his successors has since realized: the confines of the monument's boundaries and the need for more space. Davis pledged himself to keep the Indians informed about all major policy decisions and to work closely with them to create an atmosphere of friendship and trust. [15]

In 1961, the Indians drew up their own list of seven priorities for overall economic development: 1) Preserve wilderness and historic values while maintaining the native timber industry; 2) Provide employment for the Band; 3) Demonstrate that the community can develop and sustain a self-sufficient economy; 4) Uplift living standards, health, and general welfare; 5) Work "effectively and harmoniously" with the Government to develop the community; 6) "Pursue prudent and productive practices in the utilization of natural resources;" and 7) Make the reservation and monument "one of the most outstanding historic and recreational areas in the United States." [16]

Fulfilling a requirement of Public Law 85-910, the Park Service published A Recreation Land Use Plan for the reservation in 1961. Authorizing the study, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior wrote:

... the best interests of the United States and the Indians would be to produce an overall land use plan for the orderly recreation development of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation and other Indian lands in the vicinity, including Pigeon Point. Since these lands belong to the Indians or are being held in trust by the United States for the Indians, it seems best that the Indians arrange (in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs working with the National Park Service) for the development of an overall land use plan for these lands. The advisory capacity of the National Park Service can include review and suggestions on the adequacy and suitability of the land use plan as it is being prepared. It would be particularly advisable for the Grand Portage Indian Council to withhold any recreation leases and development until such plan is completed.

In developing the land use plan, factors to be considered should include the preservation of outstanding scenic and public recreation features, circulation systems, logical and beneficial locations for resort and commercial development, logical and suitable locations for future expansion of residential development and the relationship of Grand Portage National Monument to the future use and development of this whole area. [17]

The 1961 plan details the recreational advantages of the area and focuses on development extending along the coastal North Shore Drive of the reservation. Because the lakeshore was logged-off in the early part of the century, future lumbering activities could be concentrated in the upland interior without adversely affecting the natural beauty of the area. Modernization of the village on the east side of U.S. 61 was proposed by NPS planners and included community buildings, a trading post, schoolgrounds, playground, and residential subdivisions. Sanitary water and sewer systems for the village, monument, and the proposed Pigeon Point Indian Park were planned to "consolidate utilities into a relatively economical unit." [18]

Utilizing members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, work projects in 1963 included reconstructing the Mount Rose Trail and signs, replacing the Great Hall's roof, preparing pickets, shoreline cleanup, and landscaping the former parking area in front of the Great Hall which was covered with sod the year before. [19]

In 1964, an Interpretive Prospectus was prepared by Park Historian Robert J. Riley who admitted that the Park Service's progress since 1960 to develop an interpretive program at Grand Portage was "poor." More research was needed before a well-developed interpretive program could be adopted. The lack of historical data on Grand Portage, coupled with reliance on only "superficial and secondary" sources, hampered effective interpretation. He recommended continued archeological excavations at Grand Portage and Fort Charlotte. Riley called the existing visitor facilities "minimal" adding:

Today the persons visiting Grand Portage National Monument come away with only a meager, possibly distorted, and certainly fragmentary knowledge of this historically significant area. [20]

The single interpretive facility was the Great Hall in which a concession operation conflicted with the presentation of the scant and inadequate museum displays. The exhibits provided

... little, if any, excitement about seeing the area and its significance.... The existing interpretive signs and markers, although adequate per se mean little to the visitor who has not first been given the chance to get a glimpse into the drama, color and deep human interest of the Grand Portage story, and its significance to the history of our country. [21]

Another serious problem entailed that a large percentage of the portage and the entire Fort Charlotte site remained in non-Federal ownership. These inholdings were held by private Indian and non-Indian allottees as well as the Grand Portage Band's own trust lands. No land acquisition program, as called for by Public Law 85-910, had yet begun. Until it did, "the full potential of the monument's resources cannot be realized nor can an adequate program be established." Close cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would speed the process of the acquisitions which were completed by 1970.

Close work with the BIA was also recommended in the 1964 Interpretive Prospectus to formulate design plans for a joint administrative facility. An NPS/BIA facility on "Agency Reserve Lands" would be "the most suitable location for an interpretive facility within the entire Grand Portage area." Grand Portage, the prospectus noted, "sorely needs" an administrative headquarters building to incorporate public restrooms and orientation services as well as interpretive areas for films and displays to "make the past live" and the visit "meaningful and enjoyable." Within the proposed NPS section would be a lobby, information desk, a view terrace, color film presentation room, prize object display rooms, library and study collection rooms, and, administrative offices. [22]

To enjoy and appreciate the monument, the Interpretive Prospectus stated that the interpretive center was vital to the visitor traveling on U.S. 61 between Duluth and Thunder Bay. Guided tours would also support the overall effect of Grand Portage with trips to the North West Company post reconstruction, beach sites, a half-mile walk along the portage, and the roundtrip walk on the scenic Mount Rose Trail. Future trips might include area boat excursions on the coast and overnight hikes along the entire Grand Portage. The new interpretive program "places heavy dependence on attractive, well-written, and accurate publications to cover the many facets of the park story too difficult to present by visual means." The only NPS publication available was a 24-page folder published in 1964. Printing a low-cost historical handbook was suggested. [23]

The completion of a two-year project to replace the stockade was accomplished in 1966. The palisade picket butts had rotted and fallen over in several sections because of the poor drainage in the depot area. MHS archeological excavations in the early 1960s resulted in the reconstruction of the elevated Gatehouse and two sets of heavy double gates by 1966. Regular guided tours around the stockade commenced that summer, conducted by a seasonal Ranger-Historian. Additionally, Grand Portage National Monument joined the Eastern National Park and Monument Association (ENP & MA), a support organization which helps fund projects and provides items for sale to tourists. [24]

The year 1967 saw a dramatic increase in visitation to the monument. Annual visitation figures reached a record-high 103,458 compared to 27,585 in 1961 (the first year statistics were kept) and 75,082 in 1966. The reason for this surge was due to the Canadian centennial celebration, Expo '67. Grand Portage greeted the influx of thousands of Canadians who were retracing the route of the voyageurs (See Appendix F for annual visitation figures).

In the mid-1960s, public and private figures, concerned that the rapid spread of commercial development might destroy the scenic beauty of the North Shore, revived the idea of establishing an Indian park in the Grand Portage-Pigeon Point area. A March 25, 1967, statement drafted by the Grand Portage Reservation Business Committee (RBC) declared:

The Committee is fully aware of the probable economic impact of the Indian Park on this community. We know also that the Indian Park can produce a situation in which our children can prosper and improve their way of life. In short, we need no one to convince us of the value and the desirability of the Park concept as we now know it.

However, we are dealing with the last remaining small possession of many of the Indian people of our community. We are obligating and dedicating this last possession, this land, to certain purposes which are sure to conflict with traditional Indian usage. In order to justify the inevitable restrictions, we must be able to produce positive assurances that the land itself will not be lost and that our people will be given every opportunity to derive maximum benefits from the Indian Park.

To do less than this would constitute callous indifference to the wishes of a majority of the Grand Portage Band and would expose the Reservation and its people to the uncertain attitudes and policies of changing federal administrations.

We want this Park very badly, but if we are to have it at all it must come on terms that we and our children can live with. [25]

So popular was support for an Indian park that State Representative J. William Trygg (62nd District of Minnesota) released a study in 1968 in which he called for the establishment of a "national recreation area" within the reservation to be managed by the NPS, BIA, and the Grand Portage Band. The "Grand Portage-Voyageurs National Park" would "help preserve the area from random development" and "preserve the scenic beauty" of the region. Representative Trygg reasoned that northeast Minnesota was surrounded by public recreation areas—Pigeon River Park (Ontario), Isle Royale National Park, Kabetogama State Forest, and Superior National Forest—and so protecting the region's core (Grand Portage) would only benefit the other areas. [26] The proposal was never translated into legislation.

To study the effects of a future Indian park on the national monument, the Secretary of the Interior authorized the formation of a special task force on May 26, 1965. Agencies participating in the task force included the Department of the Interior (BIA, NPS, and Program Support Staff); the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (Public Health Service); State of Minnesota (Minnesota Conservation Department); and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewas. The task force recommended that a park managed by the Indians and the National Park Service be established with administrative and public use facilities outside, but adjacent to, the monument's boundaries. The proposed park would encompass an economically depressed area. Federal assistance would be required to establish any park, as the local economy could never support such development.

Another task force mandate was to resolve the differences between two planning reports—the NPS land use report (1961) and one by private consulting firm Aguar, Jyring, and Whiteman, Planning Associates of Duluth, Minnesota (1963). The major differences in the two proposals concerned the location of a major resort complex on Wauswaugoning Bay and timber harvesting within recreational areas. The NPS condemned both points of contention as an intrusion on the area's natural beauty. [27]

In addressing itself to the effects of an Indian park on Grand Portage National Monument, the task force reported that:

The Indian people are faced with increasing economic pressure to develop, lease, or sell their lands for commercial exploitation. Though it is true that the National Park Service will preserve, within the 700 [sic] acre monument boundary, the reconstructed stockade, the portage, and the site of Fort Charlotte, it must be realized that these features are small parts of a scenic and historic mosaic encompassing the entire reservation; if the surrounding terrain is not preserved, the very purpose of the National Monument could be destroyed. [28]

Inability to acquire lands because of the lack of funds was creating problems for the NPS land acquisition program at Grand Portage. Of the 770 acres authorized in Public law 85-910, 375 acres—nearly half of the national monument—still remained unpurchased because of the lack of congressional appropriations, a fact which had soured Indian-NPS relations. Location of the portage route caused many headaches since its winding route "severs allotted land and leaves small, isolated tracts with little or no residual value to the original owner." The task force recommended that:

...the Grand Portage National Monument legislation be modified to permit the National Park Service, where necessary and desirable, to acquire entire tracts of land and to give severed balances to the Grand Portage Band or the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, whichever happens to be the contiguous landowner. [29]

Another amendment to Public Law 85-910 that the task force suggested involved the relinquishment by the Indians of road rights-of-way. It stated that since the monument was created, "development has been minor" with large cash outlays of only $125,273 spent on the reconstructed stockade and Gatehouse. It observed that "full development has not been possible because the legislation establishing the monument did not authorize acquisition of existing roads within the boundaries. These roads effectively divide the North West Fur Company area, making efficient management impossible." [30]

The lack of space within the monument's boundaries for a headquarters/visitor center, administrative offices, utility buildings, and parking areas also blocked full development. The task force recommended that NPS, BIA, and any future Indian park headquarters be combined. Building the complex, maintenance and storage facilities, and employee housing would cost an estimated $1,628,100. A new sewage disposal system would also be required to service the area. Such large investment of capital into the reservation would be a tremendous impetus to the local economy. [31]

A concluding recommendation to the NPS concerned the portage crossing at U.S. 61 at which several hundred feet of the historic portage was destroyed by the highway fill. The grade at the crossing point is steep and the speed of cars fast, resulting in hazards to hikers. The task force asked that the Minnesota Highway Commission participate in the restoration of the Grand Portage, construct an underpass on U.S. 61, and erect lowered speed limit and caution signs for motorists. [32]

Differing opinions between the various groups involved in the proposed Indian park have relegated it to the planner's table. To date, while there are some who still dream of a future park to preserve the region's natural beauty, no such entity has been established.

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Last Updated: 04-Feb-2005