Welcome to the
Sokaogon Chippewa Community
The Sokaogon Ojibwe: A Comprehensive Summary
by Richard D. Ackley, Jr
We, the American Indians and Alaska Natives, are the original inhabitants of America. Our land once was a vast stretch of forest, plains, and mountains extending from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. In many American Indian and Alaska Native lands across the country, we still hunt, fish, and gather from the land, rivers, and seas, much as we have for thousands of years.
Our long and proud heritage continues in our many traditional foods, medicines, and names all Americans use. We have survived numerous disruptions of our lives and dislocations from our native habitats. Today, while still maintaining our Tribal traditions and languages, we strive to accept new technologies which address our needs.
-US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration 9/1993
The Mole Lake Anishinabe (Chippewa) settled in the northern regions of Wisconsin, having moved out of eastern Canada at least a 1,000 years ago.
“According to the teachings of the Ojibwe people, also known as
the Chippewa or Anishinaabe, it was the sacred Megis Shell that first guided the people to the rich regions of the Great Lakes.
The Megis Shell was last seen near Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, which was one of the settling points
for Tribal people migrating from the eastern shores of the continent.“
- ”Mazina’igan A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe” Fall 2005
Living near the upper Great Lakes region, they kept the right to hunt, fish and gather on lands sold to the U.S. Government in the mid 1800's. The agreements they made are called treaties. Treaties are legally binding agreements made between two nations, in this case the United States and the Chippewa Tribe. Today, the rights kept by the Chippewa are referred to as treaty rights. Treaty rights were never sold by the Chippewa, nor were they granted or given by the federal government. The Chippewa kept the right to obtain food and other necessities on ceded lands in order to be sure future generations would always have a source of food and survival. In legal words, Chippewa treaty rights are called usufructuary rights, which means the right to use property. Treaties are recognized in the U.S. Constitution as being the “supreme law of the land.” They are legally binding agreements and have always been respected within the framework of federal law.(1)
The Sokaogon Mole Lake band of the Lake Superior Chippewa reside on the Mole Lake Indian reservation next to Rice Lake, (zaaga-i’-gan manoomin) in Forest County, in northeast Wisconsin. It was recorded that some 500 Indian warriors died during the 1806 Battle of Mole Lake. The battle between the Chippewa and the Sioux was fought over the wild rice bed that exists here. The Ojibway refer to wild rice as “manoomin” meaning the food that grows on the water. Wild rice has always been a staple of the Chippewa diet and is still harvested and processed today, in the traditional way.
The last major “treaty” signed by the Sokaogon Chippewa was in 1855. There is not a consistent tracing of the Sokaogon Chippewa in terms of the Treaty of 1854 and the United States. Sokaogon Chippewa are difficult to trace because of a number of “official” names by which the Sokaogon Chippewa (Mole Lake) Band were known.
1. A Guide to Understanding Chippewa Treaty Rights, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission, July 1994.
Also, another band of Chippewa originate elsewhere with a similar name during this period. The Sokaogon Chippewa are virtually “lost” in official annual reports between 1862-1899. Second, the records of the Sokaogon Chippewa are difficult to trace between 1854 to 1906 in official files largely due to written actions by successive Indian Agents and; third, Sokaogon Chippewa signatories to the 1854 Treaty were not accurately geographically located.(2)
From 1836 to 1854, four land cession treaties were signed between the United States Government and the Ojibwe tribes living in a vast area around Lake Superior that later became the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In return for their land, the Ojibwe reserved the right to hunt, fish, and gather throughout the ceded territories, including Lake Superior. (3)
2. Lake Superior Treaty Sokaogon Chippewa 18854, Donald B. Murdock 1972
3. Mazina’igan A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, Fall 2005
Willard LeRoy Ackley was born in England in 1818, and was the first white settler in Wisconsin’s Langlade County. Little is known of his boyhood days except that he was a venturesome lad, who was lured to the Western states by the stories of adventure among the Indian tribes and fur traders of the great northern wilderness. He came west to Wausau where he stopped for a time before definitely settling in Ackley Township, Langlade County in Section 27 and 28 T31NR10E where the West Branch and East Branch of the Eau Claire River merge together. This was the year 1850. He built a log cabin and trading post and homesteaded in Section 28. Part of the land is now the Riverview Golf Course,(west of Antigo). He also had a logging camp which appears along with the cabin site on the government survey maps made by James Marsh in 1851 and re-establishment was designated by J.C. Fellows in June 1859.
The logging camp was located in N ½ of N.W. 1/4 of Section 22 near the Galuska farm. Some men made it their trade to drive logs down the river. With his camp crew egging him to marry, as his cooking was “something else to be desired”, he decided to take a bride. The Sokaogon Chippewa Indian tribe stopped at Ackley’s Trading Post every Spring on their way to Post Lake. Ackley walked to Post Lake to choose his Indian bride. He chose Me-Da-Gee-Wa-No-Quay “Maiden of the forest”. A Chippewa Indian daughter of the Chief Mee-gee-see known as Great Eagle. The two of them walked to Wausau where they were married by a Justice of the Peace and then went back to the cabin on the Eau Claire River. It was at this time he changed his name from Acly to Ackley as his family strongly opposed the marriage to an Indian woman. He had relation in the eastern U.S.A. This marriage must have taken place in 1853-1854 as their first son was born in 1855. She was about 16 years Willard’s senior. Mrs. Willard Ackley (Mary) they called her had been married before to an Indian runner of her father’s. A runner job was something like that of a scout.
These men were sent ahead to find places for the tribe to move and look out for danger. Mary’s first husband died during one of these runs. She and her first husband had two children, a boy and a girl. The daughter Sarah was married to John Hogarty who had a trading post at Hogarty. The son, Missabe or (Mesabe) was adopted by Willard Ackley and bore the name of Ed Ackley. The Ackleys were very good to the early pioneers. Many stayed with them until their homes were built. Ackley had some equipment for raising hogs and very willingly helped all his neighbors. He was often ridiculed for his kindness by those he helped. My father “Orvis Vaughan” who was raised close to the Ackleys wrote: Willard Ackley was a prince among men. If I ever met a better man than Ackley I don’t know it to this day. He gave of what he had to all that asked and a great many never paid. The first settlers above the forks of the Eau Claire couldn’t raise a barn or house without Ackley or his ropes or both, and most of them thought they were better than he was.(4)
4. The Antigo Daily Journal/Journal Express Times, Laverne (Vaughan Rasmussen Langlade Co Dept on Aging
In 1854, representatives from the Mole Lake Band attended a treaty council on Madeline Island between the Chippewa Nation and representatives of the United States. The federal government agreed to provide several Chippewa bands with cash, equipment, and their traditional land base. The following year, the Indian commissioner denied having met with the Mole Lake Band during that treaty council, and the promises were not kept.(5)
Willard L. Ackley, grandson of Willard LeRoy (Acly) Ackley was born on Christmas Day in 1885, at Bishop Lake near Crandon. He was named after his grandfather Willard LeRoy Ackley. Willard attended a government-run boarding school near Tomah, WI. In 1909 he went to work in a logging camp in Odanah, WI, near the Bad River Chippewa. He returned to the Crandon area in 1917 and learned the carpenter trade. His first wife Sadie died and he then married Dora Johnny, rearing his son Charles. When Willard moved back to Mole Lake in 1917 he was visited by the older members of the Tribal community and they told him about the “lost” document. The original document which promised the Sokaogon people a 12-square-mile reservation was in the possession of a government agent as he carried it back to Washington DC. Unfortunately the ship on which he traveled, went down in a tragic accident on Lake Superior all aboard were lost. The only copy was in the possession of a trusted fur trader who acquired it from the Sokaogon as a form of collateral for some various debts. Later the fur trader became ill and gave it to some unknown man who had been caring for him, who also later died. The copy has not been recovered to this day.
Willard was officially recognized as Chief of the Sokaogon Band in 1929. He met with John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was instrumental in establishing the current reservation starting with approximately 1700 acres in 1934. Chief Ackley was asked by the US government where he wanted to locate his reservation. After consulting with his Tribal Elders, a spot was selected adjacent to Mole Lake and including Rice Lake, Forest County Wisconsin. His first job was obtaining information about treaties. After that he made many trips to meet with government agents and finally traveled to Duluth, MN to hire an attorney to press the tribe’s claim for a reservation status. This took place during the Great Depression at a time when money was scarce. Chief Ackley sold deer hides and beadwork and also helped to care for many of the children around Mole Lake. He is credited with bringing electricity to Mole Lake in 1948 and running water in 1963. Simply referred to by everyone as “Uncle Willard”, he was dedicated throughout his life to this community.
5. Tiller’s Guide To Indian Country , Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations, BowArrow Publishing Company, Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
He died at age 84 in 1969 at his residence, an old shack on the west side of Hwy 55 in Mole Lake. Before the reservation was formally approved following the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Sokaogon had always lived in the vicinity near Rice Lake without the benefit of any form of Tribal government, other than the ability to hold council meetings. The Sokaogon are known as the “post in the lake” people. The 1930 Census revealed a total population of 212 people. In 1968 the Sokaogon received additional lands which brought the reservation size to just under 2,000 acres.
Starting in the 1970s and continuing through today, Tribal members and Tribal governments began challenging the authority of the states to apply their resource regulations against Tribal members hunting on ceded lands and fishing in ceded waters, both inland and in Lake Superior. In a series of federal and state court decisions, the treaty-reserved rights of the Ojibwe were reaffirmed in Wisconsin with the 1972 Gurnoe and the 1983 Voigt decisions.
The US Census 2000 statistics show a population of 392 on the Mole Lake reservation with a total of 165 housing units. The Sokaogon Band of Chippewa currently has 1261 enrolled members with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, nationwide.
Although the Sokaogon continue to gather cultural resources in the traditional way and harvest wild rice, and utilize both State and Federal program grants, the thrust of the current economic growth comes directly from Indian Gaming. When Congress enacted the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Sokaogon moved forward to establish a Class III gaming venue in mid 1991. A modest bingo operation had been operating since the 1970s. Since 1991, economic development has included a motel, a gas station/ convenience store, an expanded gaming operation, an upgraded and remodeled Class II high stakes bingo, snack bar and a full service restaurant for fine dining.
The future includes a new hotel attached to the casino, a new youth center near the current elderly center, the rehabilitation and preservation of the log cabin, now listed on the National Register of Historic Properties and a museum and trading post near the cabin.
History of the Sokaogon Chippewa, Mole Lake Band
The term "Lost Tribes" was applied to two groups of Chippewa Indians whose status within the Chippewa tribe had never been officially determined prior to 1938. Identified as the Mole Lake and St. Croix bands, these Chippewa Indians now live on reservations.
Under provisions of the 1934 Reorganization Act, 1,745 acres of land were purchased for the Mole Lake "Lost Tribe." This area lies in southwestern Forest County, near Crandon, Wisconsin. On this reservation, in 1938, lived 106 Chippewa, of whom 18 were full bloods. The number of un-enrolled Chippewa was estimated at 200.
In 1930, a roll was taken of the "Lost Tribe" in the Mole Lake area in order to determine if these Indians could be identified with existing reservation Indians. The census showed a total of 212 Indians. Thirteen of these were entitled to Tribal rights with the Lac du Flambeau Indians. However, there were good reasons for believing that this "Lost Tribe" was once part of the larger group of Lake Superior Indians. They had wandered away from the main group and stubbornly formed a separate division.
According to legend, Mee-gee-see, their chief, was prevented from attending the treaty council on Madeline Island. He sent his speaker, Nigig to observe and report the proceedings. Without proper authority, Nigig signed a treaty which promised the Chippewa cash, equipment and lands. The following year when Mee-gee-see met with the Indian commissioner, the latter denied that he had made any treaty with Ni-gig. However, he promised to set aside a grant for the band the next year. He drew up a map which gave the Chippewa approximately 20 square miles of land in the Summit, Pelican, Metonga and Pickerel Lakes area.
The agent gave Mee-gee-see a copy of the plat, retaining the original for government files. But on the return trip from Washington, the boat sank in the Great lakes with everyone aboard.
|That autumn, as was their custom, the Sokaogon band followed the deer herds east to the swamps of Peshtigo, and, as usual, a trader, named Bill Johnson, grubstaked the tribe against the winter's trapping returns. Unfortunately, the story relates, the Chippewa were unable to pay the $1,200 debt because of the winter's severity Johnson slipped into the chief's tepee and requisitioned the map as security for the loan. Before the Indians were able to redeem the map, the trader became ill. He gave the map in payment to a man named Straus who cared for him until his death. Straus later committed suicide, leaving only rumors of the map's disposal. As a result the Sokaogon Indians were without a vestige of evidence to press their claim.||
Wild Cranberries found each fall growing in their natural environment along the Ojibway Nature Trail located on Sokaogon Mole Lake Chippewa land.
During the chieftainship of the Great Martin, "Ki-chi-waw-be-sha-shi", the Post Lake band numbered 700 Chippewa. Great Martin, a signer of the first treaty between the United States and the Chippewa of this area, was the father of Mee-gee-see, the Great Eagle. Mee-gee-see was intimately connected with the history of Langlade County. His daughter, Madwa-jiwan-no-quay, "Maid of the Forest," married Willard Leroy Ackley, Antigo's first white settler. Two sons were born to this marriage, Charles and DeWitt. In 1947, Charles Ackley declared that his
grandfather, Chief Meegee-see, had stated that the Mole Lake band had been promised a tract of land twelve miles square touching on Post, Pelican and Mole Lakes.
Charles Ackley was prominently connected with Langlade County activities for many years. In 1947, Ackley claimed that he was 95 years of age. He based this claim on his recollection of the year that his father told him he had reached manhood. Langlade County, however, records his birth date as October 20, 1857. If the record was correct, Ackley was 90 years of age instead of 95. Mr. Ackley died in 1952. The following account of his funeral appeared in the Antigo Daily Journal.
With a rite never before performed in such a setting, and which Antigo probably will never see again, Charles Ackley, centenarian resident of Langlade County, son of its first permanent white settler, and grandson of Chippewa Chief Great Eagle was accorded the burial honors of the ancient Medawe ceremonial.
William Mericle, an elder member of the Mole Lake Band of Chippewa, took his position beside the casket, and gave an address in the language of his people, making from time to time, the gestures appropriate. Chief Willard Ackley then took his place to give a free English version of what had been said by Mericle, who is the religious spokesman of the band, and leads the Tribal dances that form part of their religious expression.
The previous speaker, Chief Ackley said, had addressed the spirit of the departed, telling him that he was going into the presence of his Creator to be accorded a place at his right hand. He had lived well while he was with us, and he was entering the "happy hunting ground" where would be found all that is good on earth. In the joys before him he would not feel the want of his relatives on earth, and he was urged to go forward, entering into all of his privileges.
After summarizing the address by Mericle, Chief Ackley gave a short review of the history of his band, telling of Great Martin, the great-grandfather of Charles, of his grandfather, Great Eagle, his daughter, Maid of the Forest, the mother of Charles, and his white father, W.L. Ackley. References were also made to his later elder brothers, Ed (Missabe) and DeWitt, one living to the age of 90 and the other to the age of 85.
With a prayer in Chippewa, Chief Ackley completed his part. The service closed with a Chippewa burial chant by Charles VanZile while all present stood.
While the curtains were drawn, the newly-made moccasins for the heavenward journey were placed on his feet. Also buried with the body were a small buckskin containing a key, a pipe and three matches, two for his pipe, and one for light should he lose his way.
In 1937, Mrs. Grace Shaw Ross of Crandon, Wisconsin, gave a resume of the early Mole Lake Indians. When the Shaw family moved to Mole Lake, the Chippewa Indians in the vicinity numbered about 400. The Shaws were friendly toward the Chippewa and endeavored to have them settle on a permanent area. The nearest village at the time was Pelican Lake, 22 miles away. Mrs. Ross described the situation thus:
"We had always wondered that so many Indians remained here. They seemed to be kind of a lost tribe, as they had no government aid of any kind. About seven years after we located here, we tried to send some of the stray Indian children away to school, as they had no education of any kind. When the government agent came here to take them to Carlisle, and even furnished tickets for them to go, the tribe held a council. They refused to send any children, even orphans, as they said Uncle Sam had not done as he agreed with them in former years.
Then it was discovered that they hail been promised all this land here for a reservation. They produced a treaty signed by Franklin Pierce, giving them this land. My father saw this treaty. It seems their agent who was to finish this treaty and secure the land for them, went to Washington to complete the deal. He was drowned on the lakes in returning. They never got the land, but still remained here.
When my father found this out, he wrote to the government about it for them. The government said they had at this time deeded the land to the Northwestern Railway Company, as a land grant. They could not now let them have this land but would give them each an 80 of land in Minnesota. But this they would not accept. They said all their people were buried here, and they would not leave this place where they had always lived.
Ever since that time, the -tribe has been working to get a reservation established in this part of the country, but so far have not succeeded. The government has given them some aid at different times, distributing Pour and clothing, For many years they were destitute, but now their children have been somewhat educated and can work.
The treaty signed by Franklin Pierce w4s finally lost in some way by the tribe, but they still have some emblems given them by the government."
Mrs. Ross's statement regarding a treaty substantiates the Indians' claim to such a treaty.
Before the reservation was incorporated, the Mole Lake Chippewa lived in extreme poverty. Except for a cook stove, there was little or no furniture in their tar-paper shacks. These Chippewa welcomed the Reorganization Act and accepted a Constitution or October 8, 1938. Since the Mole Lake Indians were now recognized as a distinct Chippewa band, Works Progress Administration built eighteen log houses for their use.
The principle means of gaining a livelihood for this group are boat building, gathering wild rice and wreath greens and selling souvenir bows and arrows and other novelties. The soil, and sandy loam with gravel outcroppings, yields fair crops of potatoes and vegetables, oats, clover and timothy hay. Game on the reservation includes deer, muskrats, and wild fowl.
In 1968, the Sokaogon received additional lands which brought their reservation size to just under 2,000 acres.
Today the Sokaogon Chippewa continue to harvest rice and spearfish as they always did. Utilizing the state of the art technology and research, the Sokaogon Chippewa continue to protect the resources for the future generations.
With the advent of gambling casinos and bingo, the tribe has continued with an age-old Chippewa tradition of playing games of chance. The introduction of bingo and casinos drastically altered unemployment on the reservation from 80% to 10% in a couple of years. This enabled the surrounding communities to benefit financially and reduced federal dependence from Tribal members.
Today the tribe plans to utilize its money wisely be spending it on cultural restoration projects, environmental planning of the resources, education of its members and social, programs that enhance the general health of the tribe.
Portions of Sokaogon Chippewa History was taken from "Chippewa Indians of Yesterday and Today" by Sister M. Carolissa Levi F.S.P.A.
Visitors to our reservation are asked to respect the natural and cultural resources. Please refrain from littering or damaging property. Some areas are considered sacred and, are not open to the public. Contact Tribal offices for more information.