By Cindy Ross
You can’t truly say you know Wisconsin without knowing about the native cultures that have made their homes here. Fortunately, that’s becoming easier.
The 11 Native American tribes in Wisconsin are working toward creating cultural opportunities for travelers. Wisconsin has the most Native American tribes east of the Mississippi, with more than a half million acres of beautiful landscape, ready to offer a memorable experience for visitors.
Here’s a guide that will help you get started.
The Oneida Nation
The Oneida Indians gently stomp the ground in a wide circle around the drummers, flattening the grass and pretending to be robins, trying to draw worms from the ground to feed their young. This “Earth Dance” is performed to celebrate the return of spring, just part of a longhouse social that the Green Bay area tribe holds at their Oneida Museum & Cultural Center.
The Oneida Nation brought back socials to rekindle a connection to their culture and traditions, and now travelers are invited too. It’s a way to demystify what Native Americans are all about and expose visitors to their culture.
You can tour the 6,000-acre Oneida Nation Farms where a herd of grass-fed cattle and a flock of free-range chickens live a happy, drug-free life without hormones or antibiotics. Natives and the general public alike can purchase meat and poultry, eggs, organic veggies and berries. In the fall, visitors can join in on the weeklong Heritage White Corn harvest (by hand) and traditional husking bee. Take time to visit the Buffalo Farm too, where a herd of more than 100 American bison roam, as well as the Oneida Nation Museum.
Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation
A long-suffering, proud and enduring people, the members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band have been displaced and moved so many times, pushed from the Eastern Seaboard across half a continent, that their tribal symbol is called “Many Trails.” Their reservation was carved out of the densely forested Menominee Reservation as recently as 1856, but not before the U.S. government clearcut the entire plot.
Visitors can stay at the handsome Konkapot Lodge – a 28-room, hand-hewn lodge built by the Vele family to honor their ancestors. Across the road is a three-mile hiking trail with catwalks and bridges to get you up close and personal to the fragile boreal wetlands.
Down the road from the lodge is the Mohican Historical Library and Museum, as well as the Wea Tauk Village, where visitors can see what tribal life was like. A medicine teacher, a storyteller or dance and drumming demonstrations can be arranged in advance of a visit.
A Headquarters General Store on the MohHeConNuck Road in Bowler stocks a huge selection of Native American videos and music tapes, knives, Pendleton blankets, native foods and craft supplies like rolls of buttery-soft deerskin and beads.
The Menominee Nation
The Menominee are known as “The Keepers of the Forest.” Their 235,000-acre reservation is 98 percent forested and operates as one of the most successful sustainable yield forests in the world. The Menominee Forest is so dense it can be seen distinctly from space, and NASA uses it as a reference point for taking satellite photographs.
Tours of the area can be arranged, but perhaps the best way to appreciate the Menominee's gorgeous forest is by taking a raft trip down the Wolf River with one of the native outfitters. Or, take a walk along the trail through the Dells of Wolf River to see the tumultuous cataracts and narrow granite chasms the boats must negotiate.
Check out the Logging Camp Museum, located along the banks of the Wolf River, where replica logging camp buildings contain thousands of camp artifacts. A two-hour Menominee Heritage Auto Tour includes Veteran's Park, waterfalls on the Wolf River, Spirit Rock and the logging museum.
The Potawatomi Nation
The showcase of this nation’s cultural experience is its Cultural Center, library and museum. The 2,700-square-foot exhibit is bilingual (English and Potawatomi) and was built with input from community elders as well as internationally-known museum designers. Life-size dioramas and video presentations illustrate the struggle and journey the tribe endured.
A ride out to the Red Deer Ranch is a must. Visitors can arrange for a tour of the 320-acre property near the heart of the Nicolet National Forest, where the tribe takes an environmentally conscious approach to raising about 500 head of livestock. Visitors can purchase a variety of flavors of red deer jerky or buy a few pounds of ground meat at the tribal store and grill up some burgers at the nearby national forest.
St. Croix Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
The highlight of the St. Croix Band experience is the Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park – a re-creation of a Woodland Indian village and fur trading post that was on this site between 1802 and 1805. The typical visit includes a two-hour tour of the fur trading post and the village, starting with a stop at the 5,000-square-foot visitor center/museum for background.
The village interpreter goes through the various kinds of seasonal living arrangements of the Woodland Indians. At the trading post, the interpreter gives a general description of the fur trading industry with examples of what was traded and how. Visitors get to walk through the reconstructed cabins to see the living arrangements, and special events are scheduled throughout the year.
One of the best things to do here is paddle the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, providing 252 miles of recreational opportunities. There’s also ample opportunity to hike, fish, camp, sail and golf in the summer and cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice fish and go snowmobiling in winter.
Bad River Band of Superior Chippewa
The Bad River Chippewa own and operate a fish hatchery that stocks local rivers and lakes with 15 million walleye annually. You can visit the hatchery by contacting the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. Also located here is the only remaining extensive coastal wild rice marsh in the Great Lakes Region – the Kakagon and Bad River sloughs. Kakagon is the largest naturally grown wild rice bed in the world and is a registered National Natural Landmark. You’ll also find the largest eagle population in the Great Lakes here.
Come winter, the nation offers the Odanah Northern Lights Snowmobile Trail. This well-groomed trail adventure is the perfect personal weekend getaway -- or arrange for your snowmobile club to experience it.
The Bison Ranch in Muscoda is the place to spend your time when you visit these “People of the Big Voice.” It is a working farm/ranch dedicated to the reintroduction of the bison. Complete organic farming is the aim, to ensure the health of these bison. Feed for the herd is grown without pesticides or herbicides.
Guided tours can be arranged to view and learn about the effort.
Sokaogon (Mole Lake) Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Touring the 1880s historic log home of Danish patriot Wilhelm Dinesen should be a first stop when visiting Mole Lake. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties, for it served as a layover for postal carriers and then as a trading post by Dinesen. Dinesen’s daughter, Karen Blixen, wrote “Out of Africa” here, which was made into the 1985 motion picture of the same name that won seven Oscars, including for best picture.
The log home was rehabilitated and is now the tribe’s cultural and visitor center.
Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Almost half of this nation’s reservation is made up of lakes, rivers and wetlands. You can fish for trout at the Lac du Flambeau Fish Hatchery daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Fish are bagged while you wait and no license or fishing pole is needed.
The Powell Marsh Wildlife Area is a 12,303-acre wildlife refuge, where you can hike, ski, snowshoe and enjoy nature. Included is 24,000 acres of wetlands, which was designated by the state as one of the top birding destinations in Wisconsin. There are also 260 lakes and 65 miles of rivers and streams to paddle. The nation’s Lac du Flambeau Bike Trail covers nearly 18 miles, connecting neighboring communities.
You can visit the George W. Brown Jr. Museum and Cultural Center, where classes are offered in things like native cooking and making birch-bark baskets. Weekly flea and craft markets are held in the summer, as well as weekly powwows. Or, shop at the new Adaawae Place district for traditional arts and crafts.
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewas
Guests can use the tribal-owned Legendary Waters Buffalo Bay Campgrounds and Marina as a base for a visit and enjoy the breathtaking views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. There are 48 lakeshore tent and RV sites. Or, head down to Point Detour to enjoy wilderness camping at 24 rustic sites. There are many miles of hiking trails as well as great fishing.
The tribe also manages a fish hatchery, which is open for public tours.
Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Superior Chippewa
The tribe operates The Landing – a family resort featuring a large dining room overlooking the lake. Nine spacious cabins can accommodate guests, and boat and pontoon rentals are available. There’s a powwow dance troupe every Wednesday evening throughout the summer.
The Honor the Earth powwow celebrates the annual gathering of all native tribes. It takes place in July in Hayward, with events including a run/walk and a fry bread contest.
Also worth checking out: the Living Cultural Center at LCO Ojibwa Community College; Abijinoojii-Aki (meaning “Our Children's Land”), an Ojibwe Cultural Village located two blocks west of the Honor the Earth Powwow grounds; the 40-acre cranberry marsh; St. Francis Solanus Indian Mission (includes a Native American arts and crafts store); and the Lac Courte Oreilles Visitor’s Center, next to the LCO Casino. Tours are available for all of these.
Cindy Ross is a freelance writer who’s based in Pennsylvania and writes frequently about Wisconsin.