Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, provided by Ranger Damon. Damon Gezhiibideg Panek is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of White Earth Ojibwe and was a Park Ranger at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Before Gezhiibideg’s family “relocated” to White Earth in the 1860’s, they lived on Madeline Island and in the surrounding area. He currently lives on the Red Cliff Reservation with his family.
Beavers are the largest member of the rodent family in North America. They were an important animal for the fur trade, when they were trapped and their pelts traded or sold to make hats and goods. Traditionally, Native people caught them for food and other items.
Beavers alter the places they live by cutting down trees with their teeth to build their homes. Their front teeth are orange from an iron coating that makes them stronger and holds a sharp edge. Did you know they can cut down a six-inch-thick tree in fifteen minutes? Beavers raise their families in lodges they build of sticks and mud. They escape predators by swimming into their den through underwater openings. They have special coverings, like goggles, for their eyes and close their nose and ears to be able to stay underwater for as long as twenty minutes!
Beaver lodges block streams and trap water to make ponds. These ponds can be homes for other animals and fish. Beavers work hard to plug holes to keep their lodges dry inside and maintain the ponds. If beavers leave an area, their lodges fall apart, the ponds disappear, and the remaining area dries into a fertile meadow. These meadows act as sponges, absorbing flood waters that later serve as caches in times of drought.
Meme (Pileated Woodpeckers) are one of the year-round birds in northern Minnesota. They are large birds, almost the size of crows, that are easy to spot. Black and white with a large, red crest, and drumming that can be heard from a distance, these woodpeckers are easy to recognize.
Meme eat insects, larvae, and caterpillars, like spruce budworm, and wild berries. Large, dead trees are the best source of their favorite foods and for nest trees. Nest holes are large enough to later house owls, ducks, bats, and martens. Remember that standing dead trees provide important habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife!
For generations, Indigenous people managed the landscape with fire. Ishkode (fire) regenerates fire adapted plants and stimulates their growth. By clearing the understory, it opens a forest for living, creates forage to attract game animals, and maintains certain species like blueberries. Here you see a modern person igniting a fire to clear a meadow to encourage wiingashk (sweetgrass), a culturally important plant for the Anishinaabe.
Commonly associated with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, bull boats were necessary to cross rivers in the West. They transported loads of meat and firewood up and down rivers. These light vessels could drift as much as a mile during the crossing! Hair side facing out helped keep boats from spinning, and a tail served as an attachment point for towing. Weighing as little as thirty pounds and made from the hide of bison, they replaced canoes west of Grand Portage in a landscape where birch was scarce. A willow frame covered with fresh hide could be built in a day. The paddles were made from cottonwood, sometimes with a bison shoulder blade. Bull boats need to dry out periodically to prevent them from becoming waterlogged.
Have you ever picked wild blueberries? Mmmmm. Blueberries are a favorite food, now and traditionally. Anishinaabe use fire to maintain lowbush blueberry patches as a way to prune the plants and clear competing brush plus open the canopy to allow more sunlight. This process stimulates growth and fruit production. Berries can be eaten fresh or dried for winter food.
Bears love berries too! Makwa (black bear) clan wears blueberry beaded medallions as part of their regalia to acknowledge and show gratitude for their food source. Anishinaabe beading patterns take nature for inspiration. Can you see the blueberries in the traditional flowers along the bottom?
Northern Minnesota is a very wet place! It is still drying out from the last Ice Age, which gives us many lakes and wetlands. Wetlands come in several types, including bogs, swamps, and marshes, depending on the type of vegetation and amount/duration of water. Wetlands act as filters. They improve water quality, provide a natural reservoir, and help moderate the water table and the flow of rivers and streams. Wetland plants provide erosion control during flood events as their roots hold soil in place. Wetlands provide critical habitat for birds, amphibians, and many rare plants.
Manoomin (wild rice), an important food staple for the Anishinaabe, depends on these wet areas. In addition to the very useful apakweshkway (cattail), traditonally used as fluff for diapers or bedding and weaving material for mats, a surprising number of flowering plants prefer wetlands. Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) and Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) are two seen commonly around Grand Portage.
Painted turtles are the most common turtles in this region. Watch them sunning themselves on partially submerged trees. In Grand Portage they can be seen crossing the road in early summer to their breeding ponds from where they spent the winter. Adult size is seven to ten inches in length and they can live five to seven years. These turtles eat plants, fish, crayfish, aquatic insects, snails, tadpoles, and carrion. Their legs, necks, and tails have black and yellow stripes. They are the only turtle in Minnesota with orange-red markings – on the shell (carapace) and parts of their bodies.
Here you see noozhe-makwa (sow) and makoons(cub) together. Black bear cubs will stay with their mother for about a year and half. During this time young bears learn what to eat and how to stay safe while they grow.
Black bears are the only type of bear in Minnesota. They usually live in the upper third of the state in forests and swamps. They can also be seen in farming areas because they like to eat corn, apples, and other crops. Bears are omnivores like us, eating all kinds of food, like berries, nuts, grass, and ants. They are also very good hunters that prey on moose calves and deer fawns that are too young to run fast and get away.
Bears hibernate in a den during winter from November or December to March or April. Females go into dens first and those with cubs come out latest when there is most likely to be food for the five-to-six pound cubs that were born in the den. Next winter, when they are a year old, the cubs will hibernate with their mother. Imagine sleeping in a den with your mother, brother, and sister!
Wolves are the largest member of the dog family, which in Minnesota also includes coyotes and foxes. Northern Minnesota once held the last remaining wild wolf population in the Midwest. Over time, wolves moved into more areas of Minnesota, nearby Wisconsin, and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Wolves are very social and live in family groups that work together called packs. Usually this is a pair of mates and their pups, sometimes also pups from previous years. In Minnesota and the Midwest, packs average four to eight members. When older pups are present in a pack, they might assist with raising the newest litter by watching over them or helping hunt for food. Wolves prey on deer, moose, and also beavers or other small mammals.
You probably are used to seeing foxes looking for food scraps. Did you know they are also fantastic hunters? Have you ever seen one jump into the air to pounce into deep snow for a small rodent? This one caught a snowshoe hare.
Red foxes come in several colors including the usual reddish orange coat, with white-tipped bushy tail, and black legs, ears, and nose. Some are almost all black. Others can be red with dark bands on their shoulders (cross fox). Like wolves and coyotes, they are members of the dog family. Originally a boreal species, they live throughout Minnesota and are native to much of North America. Foxes sometimes cache (hide) their food for later. They occupy deep dens in the woods or forest, mostly for raising kits (young), as they like to sleep out in the open. Their big bushy tails help keep them warm when they curl up. During the winter, look for their tracks in the snow. You may be surprised at how many live in your neighborhood!
Snowshoe hares, like ermine, turn white in winter for camouflage. In Minnesota, look for them in coniferous forests (the northern half of the state and along Lake Superior).
Both foxes and hares are long jumpers. Which would win a jumping contest?
A member of the deer family, caribou eat lichen and browse shrubs. In winter when food is scarce on the ground, they move to ridge tops where deep snow enables them to reach lichen high in the trees.
Caribou are a boreal species that lived in northern Minnesota until logging in the second half of the 19th century changed the forest too much to be suitable habitat. They are one of the Anishinaabe clan animals whose images can be seen as rock paintings around the Lake Superior drainage. Did you know that reindeer are domesticated caribou?
Moose are the largest member of the deer family, which also includes deer, elk, and caribou. They are also the largest wild animal in Minnesota. Their long legs make it easy to walk through deep snow and ponds where they eat water plants and willows.
The name moose comes from the Anishinaabe word mooz, and are a traditional food source for Anishinaabe people in northern Minnesota. They weigh around 1000 pounds – a lot of meat!
Deer are the smallest member of the deer family that includes deer, elk, moose, and caribou, all of which lived in the Grand Portage area at one time. When caribou still lived in northern Minnesota, deer were uncommon. Changes from farming and less snow in winter make this area better for deer now. All members of the deer family eat plants (herbivores).
White-tailed deer have a long tail that they wave like a flag to signal danger to the herd. Male deer (bucks) grow antlers beginning in spring and shed them at the end of winter. Baby deer (fawns) are born in spring and have white spots on their fur for their first three to four months.
Many animals prey on deer. Wolves, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats hunt and eat deer, often when they are young fawns and easier to catch.
When you color this doe, think about where she lives and draw a background for her home.
The American marten is a member of the weasel family. Martens are important animals. They are a clan animal of the Anishnaabe. In northern Minnesota martens are at the southern edge of their range, which extends into Canada and Alaska. If conditions here change too much, they will move north. This would be a sign that the land around Grand Portage is becoming a different kind of forest.
Historically, martens were valued for their fur in fashion. Like beavers, they were trapped to near extinction in Europe and over harvested in North America during the fur trade era. Also, they lost their homes when this area was logged in the late 1800s. To thrive, martens need a forest floor cluttered with brush and debris, as well as dense tree coverage. They do best in northern forests with a lot of snow, away from human disturbance. In winter they stay warm in the air created by brush or roots covered with snow, where they also can find small rodents to eat.
This cedar waxwing is eating a gozigwaakomin(serviceberry, juneberry, saskatoon, wild currant). Waxwings get their name from waxy-looking red feather tips on their wings. In size they are between a sparrow and a robin. Cedar waxwings eat all kinds of fruit, including cedar berries in winter that give them the rest of their name. What kind of cedar grows at Grand Portage? (giizhik, northern white cedar, which is used in canoe building)
Cedar waxwings live all over North America except Alaska and the northern provinces of Canada. They are found at Grand Portage year round, and often form big flocks. You can see them where you live! If you live in the southern half of the United States, you will have to wait for winter.
Harebells are lilac-colored flowers that grow in a variety of places in northern Minnesota, including rocky bluffs! They bloom all during the warm season. Look for them in the woods and near the shore while you are exploring. Campanula rotundifolia is the scientific name.
Toboggans and snowshoes originate in northern snow country. The word toboggan comes from the Anishinaabemowin words: nabagi (flat) and odaabaan(sled). Native people used these sleds, often pulled by dogs, to move their belongings over snow. A pair of dogs could pull a load between 200-500 pounds for 20 miles in 5 hours.
The Northmen of the fur trade depended on aagim (snowshoes) to get around during the long winters, made by Native women in the villages where they built trading posts.