Bad River Ojibwe Tribe Reclaims Amnicon Bay
“If the land has so much cultural significance for the tribe, why would they have leased it in the first place?” Harry Funk wondered. He and his wife Amy lease a half-acre plot on the scenic, exclusive northernmost point of Madeline Island. The Funks began leasing their property seven years ago as part of the Amnicon Bay Association, a group of about 18 non-Native people who lease a 17-acre tract of land called Amnicon Bay from the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe of Wisconsin. The 50-year lease, which began in 1967, ends in August 2017. Tribal leaders and members have declared they will not renew the lucrative lease that has brought in a dependable income from the land located over 30 miles and a ferry ride from the main reservation.
“We’ve paid out more than two million dollars to the tribe over the years,” according to Peggy Swartz, 81, the last remaining lease-holder from among the original seven members who comprised the association. She thinks it would not make good fiscal sense for the tribe to take the land back.
Swartz’s focus on money and Funk’s question lay bare the gap of race, class and culture that has long existed between Native and non-Native folks here on the Island, now home to upper-crust tourists. Their attitudes betray, albeit innocently, the entitlement and ignorance of history so often displayed by non-Native people who occupy Native land.
“It makes me uncomfortable to know that the tribe doesn’t want us here. It is their land, after all,” said Amy Fund, an attorney from Minneapolis who frequently represents disenfranchised clients on a pro-bono basis.
As specified in the lease, the Funks and other Bay members have maintained the land and kept up their homes. All that time and effort has created a tie to the area that is difficult to surrender. The Funks speak of leaving with a resigned acceptance tinged with frustration.
Like most of her fellow association members, however, she has never spoken directly to tribal members. “Please tell them that we are nice people,” she asked earnestly.
In many ways, the barriers between Native and non-Native communication aren’t difficult to identify. They are typical of the racial, class and economic divisions among many Americans. For instance, according to a study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the average tourist visiting the Apostle Islands area is overwhelming white, well-educated, with an income over $100,000. Most folks from Odanah, however, get along near the federal poverty line; most people don’t go on to college.
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