Around 200 people gathered at the district's Big Sandy Lake Recreation Area, near McGregor, Minn., July 31 to honor and remember a tragedy that occurred 163 years ago.

District employees; tribal members associated with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, or GLIFWC; and friends honored the more than 400 Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe, people that died during the 1850-1851 winter. The group honored the GLIFWC ancestors by canoeing across Big Sandy Lake before a picnic in the park. Following the picnic, tribal leaders and representatives from the 12 tribes that represent the 1850 bands reflected on the significance of the event.
Jim Zorn, GLIFWC executive administrator, said, "Mikwendaagoziwag" (Ojibwe for "We remember them") prior to the start of the canoe trip. "You can't remember [the ancestors] without remembering their story, and there are new stories to be made."

The story began when more than 400 Anishinaabe people that died during the fall and winter in 1850-1851 were at the lake awaiting their annuity payments for ceded lands. More than 150 people died at the lake during the six-week period as they waited for payment. The remaining 250 people died as they attempted to return to their homes.

Mic Isham, GLIFWC and Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwa chairman, said, "Paddling across the lake with the wind and the waves was tough, but nowhere near what our ancestors dealt with in 1850-1851." Holding a speaking stick in his hand as he addressed the group, Isham added, "While these events are tragic, we're still here, and we're going to be here for a long time.

"Life is a ceremony," he added. "We have birth, life and death; and today, we honor our ancestors. They are every blade of grass, drop of water and cloud in the sky."

Zorn said he was impressed with the number of people that turned out for the ceremony and noted that the number of people attending the ceremony continues to get bigger every year. He said the event is a great teaching opportunity for the next generation. "We all know treaty history is made every day."

Michaa Aubid, Mille Lac¬s Band of Ojibwe member, said these events are important to them, but most important to the kids. "They need to know our culture, language and background," he said. "They are our future, and we need to get them involved. Without them, there is no future."