Mushkooub Aubid exercising his 1855 rights by fishing. The great Anishinaabeg leader walked on February 7.

Mushkooub Aubid: Passing of a Great Leader

Winona LaDuke

"They just can't go to a hospital and take a body from the ER and put it back into the station wagon and drive away," Aitken County Deputy Coroner Chuck Brenny said… "Pretty soon, everybody will be doing it."

Manominike Giizis, August l990, discussing the repatriation of Egiwaateshkang, aka. George Aubid by his son Mushkooub. Mushkooub took his father’s body from the coroner’s office in a station wagon home, to send him on his path to the spirit world.

Some things change, but many stay the same. This month’s passing of Mushkooub Aubid, son of George Aubid followed the same story line. Mushkooub Aubid, 65, was involved in a serious car accident on February 7 and was pronounced dead at Cloquet Memorial Hospital. His body was taken to the medical school at UMD, where an autopsy was set for Tuesday, long after the traditional practice would allow. “We just want to prepare his body for his journey to the next world,” his widow, Winnie LaPrairie, said. “This is the way it’s been done for thousands of years.”

It took, a lot of pressure and 25 tribal members to bring their Chief home. Band administrators and attorneys said a forced autopsy would violate the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. “We’re trying to do this peacefully and according to the law,” Dan LaPrairie, Aubid’s son said. “But our beliefs supercede those laws. Our father gave us explicit instructions for what to do when he passed, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

The well attended funeral and wake included representatives from most of the Anishinaabeg communities in the region and, the traditional Midewin Societies. The funeral was held in East Lake or Minisinaakwaang, home of the Rice Lake Band of Mississippi Anishinaabe or Manoominikeshiins-ininiwag. Mushkooub (He that is Firmly Affixed), much like his father, had their lives marked with defense of the land and way of life of the Anishinaabeg. At the center of their lives given by the Creator was the political autonomy of Minisinaaakwaang, as well as mino bimaatisiiwin.

Mushkooub who refused to fight in the Vietnam War because “that was not his war,” was remembered for his courage and tenacity at his memorial. He was among the American Indians who took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. in 1972; a year later was part of the liberation of Wounded Knee; and also joined his father in protesting dumping of military and toxic waste on the shores of Gichi Gummi (Lake Superior). His accolades include: Mille Lacs Band Education Director; championship ricer—bringing in 650 pounds in one day; defender of land, water, and the way of life.

In some ways, it is not surprising that two days after Mushkooub’s passing the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the rights of the Anishinaabeg to continue the way of life given to us by the Creator. In reviewing a case called “Operation Square Hook,” where White Earth and Leech Lake tribal members were arrested for gillnetting and selling of fish off the Leech Lake Reservation, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found, “..The United States suggests no reason why the right to net and sell fish would not be part of the usufructuary rights reserved by the establishment of the Leech Lake Reservation in the 1855 treaty. The context of the 1855 treaty establishing the Leech Lake Reservation indicates that this ‘general rule’ applies. As the Supreme Court noted in Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band, the silence regarding usufructuary rights in the 1855 treaty and the negotiations leading up to it suggest that the Chippewa Indians did not believe they were relinquishing such rights. … Historical sources indicate that the Chippewa practiced such activities during the time period when the reservation was established. Even if the 1837 treaty does not apply, the rights it protects are relevant because in this particular case the Chippewa would have understood similar broad rights to apply on the Leech Lake Reservation. We therefore conclude that the exclusive on reservation fishing rights of the Chippewa Indians protect the rights to fish and to sell fish. …”

“For people to negotiate a treaty that would stand l60 years later, and protect present day Anishinaabe is remarkable. That treaty was in a foreign language, and for our ancestors to do that, that was a great gift, to this generation,” Attorney Frank Bibeau, long time friend of Mushkooub explains.

Bibeau adds, “It is apparent the state was more interested in spending three years and hundreds of thousands prosecuting Native people for exercising treaty rights by taking fish by gillnet and then selling the fish, than working with Anishinaabe in protecting the watershed of those fish in the long run,” referring to recent efforts to prevent the Sandpiper crude oil pipeline and Square Hook decisions adding “our off-reservation treaty harvesting rights include a natural, preemptive right to protect our environment because we plan on our future generations living here, as we always have, forever.”

A major concern of Mushkooub was mining proposals. The Tamarack Mine Project is in the same watershed as the Minisiwaaning, or Rice Lake/East Lake Band of Anishinaabeg. The mining interests have leased 35,000 acres of land, not far from Big Sandy and Round lakes, Savanna Portage State Park, and the Grayling Wildlife Management Area.

A venture of Talon Mining (based in one of the world’s largest mining empires’—the British Virgin Islands) and Rio Tinto Zinc/Kennecott (the largest copper mining company in the world), the Tamarack proposal has resulted in some 124,700 feet, or 23.7 miles, of drill core samples from the area.

Geologists estimate more than 10 million tons of mineable ore below, as copper mining has relatively low returns per amount of earth disturbed to extract it. The recovery ratio for copper is 0.16 percent, much smaller than the average for other metals (4.5 percent).

Talon officials say the copper and other valuable minerals are roughly 1,000 to 1,500 feet below the surface and that the mine "will be an underground mine, if it is able to get through Minnesota's exacting permitting process,” or, essentially to get past the strict regulations which protect wild rice, sacred to the Anishinaabeg, and the state grain.

The mining proposal would create sulfuric acid discharge into the very rice beds from which Mushkooub harvested his legendary 650 pounds. In a move this February by some Minnesota legislators (Senators David Tomassoni (D-MN), Tom Saxhaug (D-MN), Tom Bakk (D-MN) and Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-MN)) introduced – S.F. No. 868 which would override state regulations regarding sulfuric acid “prohibiting the application of wild rice water quality standards…”Minnesota’s water quality rule limiting sulfates to 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in wild rice waters was enacted in 1973 in order to protect natural stands of wild rice. The proposed legislative change, seems focused on particularly the proposed Tamarack and Polymet mines, both within wild rice areas. Separately, the Enbridge Sandpiper line (now with a second line proposed to adjoin it, with l.4 million barrels a day of oil) goes through the same watershed.

There is, in the end a conflict between worldviews, and ways of life. Some call it the white man paperwork; autopsy reports on deceased Indians, and permitting of projects known to damage the ecosystem. What Mushkooub stood for is to be Anishinaabeg, and perhaps his father’s words of 30 years ago remind us all of what that means.

“We do not have thousands upon thousands of dollars. We do not have great mansions of beauty. We do not have priceless objects of art. We do not lead a life of ease, nor do we live in luxury. We do not own the land upon which we live. We do not have the basic things of life which we are told are necessary to better ourselves. But I want to tell you now that we do not need these things. What we need, however, is what we already have. What we need has been provided to us by the Great Spirit. We need to realize who we are and what we stand for. We are the keepers of that which the Great Spirit has given to us, that is our language, our culture, our drum societies, our religion, and most of all our traditional way of life. We need to be Anishinaabeg again.” – George Aubid, Egiwaateshkang

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