Stewardship at Grand Portage National Monument

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Great Carrying Place

The Grand Portage, or “Great Carrying Place,” was likely used by North American Indians for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans in the eighteenth century. The main 8.5-mile trail route stretched from Grand Portage Bay along the shores of Lake Superior to the Pigeon River which runs along the Minnesota/Ontario border. The land on the shore of Grand Portage Bay has been identified as a NPS cultural landscape through the section 110 process.
Sunlight filtered through the leaves of a forest onto a dirt trail
Grand Portage Corridor

NPS Photo

The Grand Portage was a vital part of both American Indian and fur trade transportation routes because of the area’s geology, topography, natural resources, and strategic location between the upper Great Lakes and the interior of western Canada. In 1731, the French adopted the portage as a route to the Upper Country. After the end of the Seven Years War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the English began using the portage to transport supplies and furs in and out of warehouses at either end of the woodland trail. This commerce created a dynamic economic relationship between American Indian and non-Indian people during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

Due to boundary controversy between Canada and the United States after the Second Treaty of Paris, the British learned of an alternate route along the Kaministiquia River from the Ojibwe tribe. This new route led to the abandonment of the Grand Portage by the British around 1804. During the mid-nineteenth century, the once-bustling international trade hub at Grand Portage Bay slowly evolved into a quiet seasonal haven for a small band of local Ojibwe Indians who relied on hunting, fishing, and trade for their livelihood.
In 1854, a treaty ceded most land associated with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to the United States government and led to the establishment of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation.

Grand Portage was designated a National Historic Site by the Secretary of the Interior in 1951. The documentation efforts on the area by federal, state, and local investigations increased the awareness of the region’s contribution to international history. Over the next seven years the National Park Service funded projects to improve visitor access to the site, including woodland clearing along the trail and installation of footbridges and walkways. In 1958, Congress authorized the establishment of Grand Portage as a federally owned and administered National Monument. This establishment included a donation of approximately half the land by the Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewa (the Band) and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT).
A view through trees to wooden buildings in a grassy area, surrounded by a stockade, with colorful hills and an expanse of blue water beyond.
Historic depot in front of Lake Superior's Grand Portage Bay, seen from Mount Rose.

NPS Photo

Since its establishment, the 710-acre national monument interprets and preserves the cross-cultural interaction and exchange among Ojibwe people and early Europeans during the eighteenth century expansion of the Great Lakes fur trading business. The National Park Service works closely with the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to support, interpret, and preserve the lifeways of the Ojibwe people including the historic values of the Grand Portage trail.


The Band has been involved with the management of the Monument, even before it was designated as a National Historic Site. They donated part of the land to the Monument, actively assisted in the writing and language of the enabling legislation especially when it came to the rights of the tribes, and advocated strongly for an active role in Monument management (King 2007, 509).
A young man in a baseball cap and sunglasses uses tools to repair mortar in a stone wall.
A Grand Portage Conservation Crew member tuckpointing masonry to stabilize a historic stone wall.

NPS Photo

The Self-Governance Act was passed in 1994 after years of history and struggle between Indian tribes and the federal government. This Act gave tribes the authority to take over federal programs that serve or benefit the tribes themselves and provides funding for such efforts.

In 1999, under the Act, an agreement was made between the Grand Portage Band and the National Park Service that the maintenance of the national monument would be done by Band employees. Those NPS maintenance employees at the time had the choice to finish their careers within NPS or be shifted from the Park Service to the Band.

Maintenance responsibility was an easy first step for the Band because they had experience and knowledge with past projects going as far back as assisting in the reconstruction and restoration of the site during the Indian Division of the CCC in the 1930s. The Monument also bisects the reservation, and many tribe members were already working for the NPS in the maintenance division. The maintenance practices needed in the Monument were not different than what was being done on the reservation.
Historic photo of two rows of men in work clothes, a row on the grassy ground in front of a standing row
Grand Portage Civilian Conservation Corps, Indian Division crew in 1937. This crew assisted Minnesota Historical Society archaeologist Ralph Brown in excavating the original NW Company stockade area during the 1936 and 1937 field seasons.

Ralph Brown, NPS Photo / Grand Portage National Monument collection

Crew members work on steps on a trail through woods, with a lake in the distance.
Crew members work on steps along the Mount Rose Trail.

NPS Photo

The agreement states that the maintenance staff will be hired by the Reservation Tribal Council, composed preferentially of Tribal members, and will conduct all maintenance practices in the Monument. However, since 1999, co-management of the park has extended to most other divisions. Band employees have now been hired to serve in interpretation and resource management.

In 2018, the NPS and the Grand Portage Band created the Grand Portage Conservation Crew. This youth organization now serves resource management at Grand Portage National Monument, Grand Portage Reservation, and Isle Royale National Park. Examples of co-management practices and projects include: preservation of historic structures, ethnobotanical restoration, construction of a LEED platinum dormitory, archeological excavation at the Monument; wildland fire, timber stand improvement, and archeological survey on the Reservation; and moose browse surveys and exclosure construction on Isle Royale.

This agreement has led to coordinating a strong relationship where there is now an exchange of resources, ideas, and practices across jurisdiction and landscape boundaries. This relationship founded by the agreement fosters a greater and deeper connection of the Band and NPS with the landscape.
Six crew members pose with a lake in the background as they prepare for training
Grand Portage Maintenance Crew preparing for fall protection training.

NPS Photo

Ethnobotanical Restoration

Grand Portage National Monument has set out to work on ethnobotanical restoration. When the park first identified this project, they found great guidance using M. Kat Anderson’s definition:

Ethnobotanical restoration is defined as reestablishing ethnobotanically significant plant communities of a given area along with the traditional and contemporary indigenous practices necessary to sustain them. Thus, this kind of restoration is not only about restoring plants, but also about restoring the human place within nature. This type of restoration views restoring as never finished, but rather is about continuous interaction between people and plants. Renewing the relationship of plants and people in place may offer new and contemporary ways to coexist no less important to the heightened environmental awareness of self and place learned through traditional ecological knowledge (Anderson 2007, 18).
Young students gather in front of someone kneeling in a grassy area
Students from the local Ojibwe charter school learn about harvesting sweetgrass and sweetgrass seeds in summer of 2018.

NPS Photo / Beth Drost

This definition was adopted as a way to set goals that address the importance of contemporary indigenous practices and achieve an outcome of reestablishment of the relationship between people and plants in place into perpetuity. This thinking created space that allowed the practice of ethnobotanical restoration at Grand Portage National Monument to grow and change with the relationship of the people to plants. Some examples of ethnobotanical restoration activity at Grand Portage are planting disease tolerant white pines to restore native biodiversity to the southern boreal forest and wildland fire use to facilitate sweetgrass management and harvest.

Grand Portage resource and maintenance staff have focused their ethnobotanical restoration efforts on the southern boreal forest. This plant community, comprised in part by white pine, black spruce, and tamarack, is native to the boreal forest and part of the Grand Portage Ojibwe culture for the last 300-400 years. The current ecosystem of pine, spruce, fir, and tamarack is in jeopardy of being disassociated and further interrupted by more southern species such as cherry, black oak, and white oak. The park thoroughly researched and proposed several options to address this problem so that the culture and historical relationship between people and this plant community would not be lost. In 2016, the staff planted 700 white pine seedlings that are tolerant to blister rust.
A group of kids and adults crowd over a kneeling guide in a grassy field
Students from the local Ojibwe charter school learned about harvesting sweetgrass and sweetgrass seeds in summer of 2018.

NPS Photo / Beth Drost

Preservation of Historic Structures

The park maintenance staff have also worked to provide preservation treatment to historic structures in the park. During the 1930s, band members worked with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps – Indian Division (CCC-ID) to excavate and reconstruct structures such as the Great Hall and stockade. They also spent time constructing other supporting buildings like ranger stations and maintaining the Grand Portage trail.

In 1939, band members working with CCC-ID built a stone bridge across Grand Portage creek. This bridge signifies construction of critical infrastructure by Grand Portage Ojibwe community members that were participating in a nationally significant conservation works program. This stone bridge is a contributing feature of the Grand Portage National Monument historic district and is eligible on the National Register of Historic places. It is also a contributing feature of the cultural landscape.
A creek passes under an arching stone bridge, framed by vegetation growing on the banks
Historic bridge at Grand Portage National Monument, date unknown.

NPS Photo

A group of people, wearing safety gear, watch intently as a man holding tools demonstrates maintenance technique beside a stone wall.
NPS Historic Preservation Training Center lead mason teaching Northern Bedrock Conservation Corps members how to tuckpoint.

NPS Photo

In 2015, a bridge inspection documented that the parapets, headwalls, and wingwalls of the bridge were leaning outward and that the mortar joints were cracking or missing. In 2018, the Grand Portage maintenance staff, Grand Portage Conservation Crew, Northern Bed Rock Conservation Corps, Grand Portage community members, and NPS Historic Preservation Training Center with their Tradition Trades Apprenticeship Program class successfully reconstructed both parapet walls and repointed the mortar joints of the headwalls and wingwalls.

Preserving the stone bridge is a great example of how generations of band members continue to be involved in the management, maintenance, and preservation of Grand Portage.
Grand Portage National Monument provides a unique relationship in the National Park Service through a strong agreement between tribe and park management. The Band and MCT’s involvement, beginning in the 1930s, with preservation of the historic site shows their dedication to acknowledging their heritage, the Grand Portage history, and the connection to the landscape of the site.
Shallow creek passes between rocky banks with vegetation before flowing under an arching stone bridge
Historic bridge at Grand Portage National Monument

NPS Photo

Anderson, M.K. “Indigenous Uses, Management, and Restoration of Oaks of the Far Western United States.” United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service National Plan Data, Technical Note No. 2, 2007.

Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects. Grand Portage National Monument Cultural Landscape Report. Lincoln, Nebraska, 2009.

Hendricks, Melissa. "A Turnaround at Grand Portage: An Indian Tribe and a National Park Unit Find Common Ground." National Parks Magazine, 2008.

King, Mary Ann. "Co-Management or Contracting? Agreements Between Native American Tribes and the U.S. National Park Service Pursuant to the 1994 Tribal Self-Governance Act." Harvard Environmental Law Review 31, no. 2 (2007): 475-530.

National Park Service. Grand Portage National Monument Foundation Document. 2016.

National Park Service. Grand Portage National Monument Cultural Landscapes Inventory. 2005

Last updated: March 13, 2019