Category Archives: Histories

Virtual Panel: Tribal Histories of the Wolf River

Tribal Histories of the Wolf River

The first Panel, Tribal Histories of the Wolf River, moderated by Tina Van Zile, featured three panelists:

  • David Grignon is an elder and tribal member of the Menominee nation, previous director of the Menominee Historic Preservation Department, and the current Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
  • Gary Besaw is a tribal member of the Menominee nation, Menominee Tribal legislature, director of Menominee Tribal Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, and the Menominee Tribal Food Distribution Department.
  • Kristen Welch from the Menominee Nation is a community organizer with the indigenous nonprofit Menikanaehkem Community Rebuilders, and a lead organizer for the women’s leadership cohort Missing and Murdered indigenous women. She currently sits on the governor’s council for mental health. 

Key takeaways:

  • The three panelists joined Tina Van Zile to share the significance of the Menominee and Wolf Rivers to the Menominee people, as far back as their creation stories, and what’s at stake for their people, indigenous communities more broadly, and the water. The Menominee and Wolf Rivers have been in Menominee ancestral history for time immemorial. Menominee ancestors are buried on the banks of both rivers, yet both have been threatened previously by the Crandon, and Back Forty mines, and now Badger Minerals exploration. 
  • David started us off talking about the consistent threats to the waterways of his people. The Menominee River is where his people were created thousands of years ago. He told the story of colonization, how the Menominee Reservation came to be, and spoke of oral histories the tribal preservation office made that could be used against mining companies. 
  • Gary spoke of the importance of water to the Menominee people since the beginning of their creation, with creation stories that are over 14,500 years old when Menominee people killed mammoths. Instead of using water as a resource for short-term uses, the Menominee people live with the water, they protect it, and the water protects them back. Water is living to Menominee people; the rivers are alive. 
  • Kristen rounded out the panel by connecting the health of water to the health of the Menominee people and missing and murdered Indigenous women. She talked about the Menominee creation story, where their first grandmother looked over all women and all of the water for them. The woman was the chosen vessel to navigate life from the spirit world to the physical world, which became a gift to Indigenous women to care for the water. Through commodifying water, people lose this spiritual connection to water. Kristen has held water walks that help to restore their relationship with the water, and water ceremonies that help protect the Menominee sacred places of creation. 
  • The panel ended on the message that Indigenous people have sacrificed everything and will continue to in order to save and preserve what is left. The panelists said they want to protect waters now, for their children, to honor their creation story, and for the deer, the fish, the plants, and the water. 

Calling The River by Dee Sweet

What the river says, that is what I say. -- William Stafford

Churning currents and the swift streams 
topple over the logic of volume and gravity--
a stream moves down a slight downhill 
then rushes from tributary to tributary
then on to an inland sea or finally, ocean

A conversation in rills and basins, a river sings
with a slow and patient voice of glaciers
civilizations have gathered on the riverbanks
to bathe, to wave farewell, to lift buckets
from streams, to transport heavy logs

We lift our cupped hands of icy winter flow
and listen closely for a harmony to our days
waiting for a melody we recognize by dialect 
an ancient verse and voice of The People
Say, "river" and we feel it in our veins

Then in whispers or the sound of tiny bells 
from a woodland brook, a brave meander
through white pines and maidenhair ferns,
a rowing song to give a cadence and
meter to a birchbark vessel; say "river"

And then hear a single voice, fearless, strong
the relentless voice of the Wolf calling us home. 

Dee Sweet (Anishinaabe, White Earth) is First Nations Organizer for Wisconsin Conservation Voices.  She is also Wisconsin’s second Poet Laureate, appointed by Governor Jim Doyle in 2004-08.