Historic and Spiritual Significance
5:36 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Tribe Celebrates Return of Strawberry Island

Lac du Flambeau celebrated the tribe’s purchase of the historic Strawberry Island Thursday.  The land was privately held for over a hundred years.

Strawberry Island, in Flambeau Lake on the Lac du Flambeau reservation.
Strawberry Island, in Flambeau Lake on the Lac du Flambeau reservation.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

About a hundred people gathered on Sand Beach across from the island that gets its name from its strawberry-like shape.  It’s the site of an important battle between the Ojibwe and the Sioux peoples.  Lac du Flambeau Chairman Tom Maulson says it’s also spiritually important. 

“It’s an island that has some very religious significance," he said.  "It’s been in the arms of the Ojibwe people for hundreds of years, until it was taken from us through, I guess I would say false pretenses.” 

The island ended up in nontribal hands in 1910.  But when the landowners made plans to build on the island, it prompted outcry from tribal members, who felt the island should remain undeveloped.  Greg Johnson of the tribe’s Culture and Language department…is one of those involved since early 90s.

“There were stories about this place," Johnson said, "about how the island came to be, and the historical part it plays in our lineage, so I thought maybe that’s something worth preserving.” 

After years of negotiations, with the tribe unable to afford the asking price, the parties finally came to an agreement.  In December the Lac du Flambeau bought Strawberry Island for a quarter million dollars.  Melinda Young, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer…says it’s more than just a land acquisition.

“The fact that it’s back – it’s belongs to us again – that to me is the ultimate, I can’t think of another space aside from where we have our ancestors resting, that is more important to our community.  To me this is our heart.” 

Tribal member Georgine Brown grew up on Flambeau Lake across from the island.  She says as a kid it was hard to understand how someone could own such an important place…and she’s happy the tribe has possession of it once again. 

“Every morning I get up, I look out the window and I see the island," she described.  "So it’s really special, it feels like we’re all together again.” 

State Senator Bob Jauch attended the celebration, as did representatives from the Bad River and Sokaogon Chippewa bands.