Nature walk at Wisconsin Point 8.28.21

8/28/21 – summary by Kelly Beaster

Wisconsin Point Ojibwe Language Plant Names

Field trip leader: Marisa Lee

In late August, the Arrowhead Native Plant Explorers sampled the sandy dune and xeric pine forest communities near the end of Wisconsin Point. Group leader Marisa Lee, a descendant of the Red Lake Nation (Ojibwe) and Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, graciously shared her knowledge of the Ojibwe language and how it relates to the plants in our area. 

ANPE participants learned that the Ojibwe language encodes traditional knowledge of the plant uses or the community where the plant is found right in the name. Among the many plants Marisa pointed out, wild blueberries – miinan – provided a great example of how the language works. The word, miin, for blueberry is found embedded in the names of many other berries: ode’imin (wild strawberry), asasawemin (chokecherry), and ogaazhigomin (bearberry). Besides providing food, plants serve medicinal purposes and even assist in everyday practices. Goldenrods are called giizisomashkiki and translate into “sun medicine.” Red pines, which are plentiful on the point, are known as apakwanagemag translating to “roof-making tree,” which Marisa explained is not named for their long straight trunks to make lumber but rather for the pitch that was used to waterproof seams in birch bark roofs. Although relatively new to this continent, many nonnative species have Ojibwe names for their significance. A very poignant closing comment to the group was that although these species can sometimes be problematic, those plants can be very useful and naming them with their Ojibwe name is a sign of respect for the gift that plant still provides. 

Wisconsin Point is a significant location in the Ojibwe’s migration story and has always been a connection from the Great Lakes waters of the east to the St. Louis and Mississippi waters of the west. Marisa reminded participants to tread carefully through the sand, not only for the unique plants but to be considerate of the historic Ojibwe burial ground that once rested members of at least seven generations of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In the early 20th century, an Ojibwe village was displaced, and many graves were disinterred to make way for development plans that never materialized. The Fond du Lac Band and the City of Superior are currently in the process of returning some Wisconsin Point land, including the burial ground, to the tribe. 

Check out Marisa’s comprehensive plant list here:

Additional information about the Wisconsin Point burial ground can be found at the following:

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