Interviews from the Field: Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

Name of your Project: The Miskwaabekong Seventh Generation Project

Is your ANA funding for one, two or three years? 3 years

How did your project come about – how was it determined?
Of the approximately 14,000 acres of land bounded by the reservation, Red Cliff owns roughly 50% (Federal trust and tribal ownership). Hence, Red Cliff’s land base is severely limited. As part of its tradition, the tribe is instructed to make decisions on behalf of the seven generations yet to come. However, as the tribe’s on-reservation population continues to grow and residential development continues to expand, the need for natural resource protection becomes ever more evident. The land base is low relative to the increasing demand, necessitating shrewd resource management that supports a seven generations vision through an Ojibwe lens. However, a lack of an adequate code of laws impedes Red Cliff tribe’s ability to protect its natural resources.

According to Red Cliff’s Integrated Resource Management Plan 2006-2016:

“Demand driven land use decisions are also not being projected on the severely limited land base of the reservation. It is highly probable that without reform, land use impacts will increase to a point where critical habitat and natural resource availability will be dramatically and irreversibly reduced and/or completely eliminated…With zero population growth assumed, current demand projections within 10 years will result in 2-8 parcels of land left or approximately 450 acres to fulfill the demand of 4,200 tribal members for all government services, hunting, fishing, gathering, cultural or spiritual use, etc.”

Who was instrumental in the development of the project?
In addition to those involved in the development of the Integrated Resource Management Plan 2006-2016, awareness of the need for improved environmental laws resulted in formation of the Tribe’s Project Application and Compliance (PAC) Review Team, comprised of staff from the Treaty Natural Resource Division, Legal Department, Planning Department and Tribal Historic Preservation Office. During a retreat held in October of 2015, the team reviewed the current permitting process and Tribal Code of Laws and, as a result, came up with this project.

How did you address bringing together (synthesizing) ideas?
The PAC Team determined current laws neither reflect cultural traditions, nor are quantifiably based for sound decision making. The team identified numerous codes that are a) poorly written to protect the resource; b) outdated; c) do not reflect cultural natural resource values; d) are not integrated with other pertinent code; and e) are not designed to be conducive for efficient permitting workflow. The existing approval processes were cumbersome and complicated resulting in confusion and a lengthy review period.

Who are the key project staff members?
A Project Implementation Committee comprised of the Project Director, Project Manager, Treaty Natural Resources Division Administrator, and Assistant Attorney will guide the project throughout the three years of its implementation.

Where is your project located, what Tribes/service area do you serve?
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa finds its home along the southern shores of Gitchi Gami, Lake Superior, on the northern tip of Wisconsin’s northernmost land, the Bayfield Peninsula. The Tribe is one of the successors of the Lake Superior Chippewa, the group of Ojibwe that moved west along the south shore of Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie, MI . According to tradition, the Ojibwe traveled for centuries, migrating from the Atlantic coast to the Chequamegon Bay as directed by Gichi Manidoo, the Great Spirit, to find the “food that grows on water” (wild rice). Hence, the lake and the waters that sustain it have profound significance to the Red Cliff Tribe’s history, culture, and sustenance.

Via a series of treaties culminating in the LaPointe Treaty of 1854, the Ojibwe people’s vast earlier territory has been reduced to a 14,000 acre reservation that, while small in size, includes abundant water resources. These comprise significant wetland habitats, 22 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, two rivers and six creeks comprising 10 miles of perennial streams, 36 miles of intermittent streams, and 1 mile of fluctuating streams, springs, and seeps, all contributing to the Lake Superior drainage basin. Rich in unique and high quality habitats, such as boreal forest, coastal bog, coastal fen, northern sedge meadow, lagoon and dry pine forest, the reservation is home to a wide diversity of animal and plant life including rare and endangered species. Wildlife typical of the area are whitetail deer, black bear, coyote, Canada lynx, bobcat, wolf, red fox, beaver, otter, muskrat, weasel, squirrel, porcupine, bald eagle, osprey goshawk, owls and other raptors, woodcock, ruffed grouse, and various types of waterfowl and migratory bird species.

While the tribe is rich in natural resources, it is conversely challenged with minimal financial resources. Red Cliff is often referred to as the smallest and poorest tribe in Wisconsin. Located in Bayfield County, Wisconsin, the reservation is home to 2,174 residents, 1,266 of who are enrolled tribal members. The tribe’s total enrollment is 6994 Red Cliff members.

What are your main project objectives/ goals of your project?
The goal of the project is to increase Red Cliff Tribe’s capacity to protect its abundant natural resources. The main project objectives are to: a) develop new and improved existing legal codes to protect natural resources, b) improve the permit application process and administration, c) implement a community outreach plan informing tribal members of new regulations, permitting processes, and the intent of the law to protect the tribe’s resources.

How has your project benefited the community overall (impact)?
Ultimately our greatest impact will be upon protecting the resource; however we expect our impacts to be multifold:

  1. Improved community understanding of permitting process – this will be accomplished via a) improved clarity of the code, b) including the public in the process before codes are finalized; c) implementing outreach activities upon finalizing the codes and d) a simplified permit application process. Also a permit application webpage will include information on workflow, what permits are required for which activities, and online permit applications,
  2. Improved water quality. Many of the code revisions will have a direct impact on improving water quality through reduced runoff, sedimentation, and pollution.
  3. Improved and efficient permit application process. We will eliminate redundancy and reform the workflow and application processes, resulting in reduced permit processing time.
  4. Improved code enforcement. Many of our codes are difficult to enforce (and understand) due to poorly written ordinances. Rewrites of the code will improve clarity for our people and for our wardens in issuing citations, as needed. Once new legislation is approved we expect there to be an increase in citations which will ultimately decrease as public awareness and understanding increase.

What are your future plans to continue your efforts?
Key to the future of this effort is community involvement. A Red Cliff Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) was created and developed to be a living resource management guide. The intention of the plan is to minimize conflicts and to take an integrated approach to resource management. In order to develop the plan, an IRMP Board was created comprised of tribal members, tribal employees, tribal elders, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A major focus of the Board was to solicit community input via a survey that was designed by the Board and technical advisors. Continued community engagement will involve a permit application and project review webpage link from the Red Cliff Tribal Government website; distribution of brochures explaining the process throughout the community; and table displays at major community events with staff who can answer questions.

What advice would you offer to someone planning or implementing a project similar to yours?
Get started now! Having an adequate code of laws increases a tribe’s ability to protect their natural resources.

April 25, 2017
Last Reviewed: July 15, 2019