July 24, 2013
Each year visitors from all over the United States and around the globe come to paddle the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers. I usually ask where they are from and how did they arrived here. Some come by car, plane and motorcycle and believe it or not even by bicycle. The routes they follow take many twists and turns. Their journeys often remind me of the seasonal journeys of the Anishinabe people who today still call the area home.
Each year some tribes started their journey by descending such rivers as the St. Louis and the Knife in Minnesota and other rivers in Wisconsin into Lake Superior. Some then began the arduous upstream trip on the Brule River, fresh with the strong spring rapids and snow melt. Then they trudged over a two mile portage to the Saint Croix River all the while carrying their families and all their possessions. The region of the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers supplied them with nearly everything they needed to survive the winter months.
Sugar bush syrup was tapped in March and April and later blueberries, other berries and nuts were gathered. On the St. Croix, time in May was often spent at the “Great Fish Trap” just above the mouth of the Namekagon. They caught and smoked fish like Muskellunge, Northern Pike, Walleye and Sturgeon. In June as the rivers lowered the children were able to collect mussels, clams, snails and other shells to be used for eating equipment and decoration on their clothing. In July they moved down the St. Croix to their summer grounds sometimes at the “Hip Bone” around the mouth of the Yellow River and what is today, Danbury, Wisconsin.
August brought them to the ricing grounds, collecting and parching wild rice for which the northwoods are so famous. In September they would prepare to ascend the St. Croix which was slow and difficult due to lower water levels and the extra weight of their precious cargo. They would then descend the Brule and into Lake Superior again, arriving home in November just in time to repair their wigwams before the cold and snow of winter arrived. Many Anishinabe still follow the seasons today. For more information see “Cecilia – The Trails of an Amazing Ojibwe Woman 1834-1892”, available for purchase at our visitor centers.
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Did You Know?
Water boatmen have no gills but rather trap air with the hairs on their legs and the air bubble encircles their bodies, making them appear shiny. Their front legs are short, their middle legs are long and slender and their back legs are shaped like paddles fringed with hair.