In Walking the Old Road, A People’s History of Chippewa City and the Grand Marais Anishinaabe, author Staci Lola Drouillard tells the stories of a community of 200 Anishinaabe families at the turn of the century. Beginning in 1987, Drouillard had the prescience to begin interviewing Chippewa City elders preserving for future generations what would have certainly been a lost history. Through these first-person accounts, Drouillard evokes the place, the people, and the way of life that formed the spirit of our community.
The importance of first-person narratives, is beautifully articulated early in the book:
“Words are the bones of our stories, and they are alive and carry weight. That is why the historical works of William Warren, Anton Treuer, and other Ojibwe historians are so important . . . Without their story, the historical record is crushed under the weight of one man’s voice, and history becomes tilted and out of balance, like a canoe with all the packs loaded to one side.”
The Anishinaabe traditions of hunting, fishing, and trapping, of a life governed by the seasons, became increasingly threatened by European settlers, government land allotment, and family relocation. Everything the Ojibwe needed for survival had been provided for by the land and water, until they were cut off from it.
“The final loss of land at Chippewa City happened in various ways.” She writes, “In some cases the State took the land through eminent domain to build a highway. In other cases, the county asked citizens to pay property taxes they could not pay.”
Some moved to Grand Portage, others left to serve in World War 1, and some relocated to other communities. “Early on, dividing the people in order to gain control of land and resources was used as a tool to conquer not only the land, but also the spirit of the people living on the land.”
One of my favorite passages in Walking the Old Road concerns Drouillard’s great-great grandmother Elizabeth’s lilac bush, which bloomed generation after generation near the credit union in town:
“ . . . we, just like the lilacs, draw strength from the earth beneath us. Stored in our roots, we are nourished by the memory of the people who came before us. Who, like the hearty perennials of early summer, are not afraid to show the world who we are. And most importantly, that we are still here.”
What a gift Staci Douillard has given our community. I recommend Walking the Old Road for anyone who loves, lives, or visits the North Shore of Lake Superior, as well as those interested in Native American history.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.