Human Powered
Season 1, Episode 5 Transcript

 

Jimmy

This story starts around a fire. A fire started by Alex Breslov.

 

Alex

You know, my, my goal is always to use as much of the material around the environment as possible. You know, I could have brought a bunch of metal, this and that…

 

Jimmy

Alex is the Indigenous Arts and Sciences coordinator in Red Cliff, Wisconsin. It's waaay up north in Wisconsin on Lake Superior. And right now, he's making us lunch inside a cedar log.

 

Alex

First we’re going to do manoomin and the bulbs of the leeks…

 

Jimmy

Manoomin [mah-NO-min] is the Ojibwe word for wild rice.

 

Alex

We’re going to add some other wild greens that I gathered right around here. And, we’re going to add fish.

 

Jimmy

Alex has two, fresh caught...like that day fresh...pieces of trout straight from Lake Superior. He’s glazed them with maple sugar. And he’s cooking it all up with rocks that he’s been heating up in the fire.

 

Alex

The rocks are stacked in the center. They are about the size of a fist or smaller because they need to fit in the bowl, the carved out cedar bowl. And the fire's built around them. And it basically heats them up until, and if it was dark, there might be even glowing red right now because this fire has been going for about an hour. So it gets them nice and hot…

 

Jimmy

Alex pours some water into the bowl, and then, very carefully, adds the rocks from the fire...

 

Sound

Hissssssssssss!

 

Jimmy

30 minutes later, we eat. It's earthy and fresh. It’s a little sweet...and a lot wonderful. It's a cooking technique that's been used—in this area—for over five thousand years.

This meal is knowledge coming together: the tribal histories of the residents here, and the academic knowledge of two archaeologists. For the last three years, the Red Cliff Tribal Historic Preservation Office has been collaborating with Heather Walder and John Creese. Two archaeologists helping excavate sites on tribal lands.

During these digs, students, researchers, and tribal community members work together to learn about the people who have lived on this land for millennia—and connect that knowledge with those who still live here today. Which for so long, hasn’t been the case of archaeological work.

 

Marvin

They say, "Well, this is how, and this is how they used to be." "This is how they used to build" look and look. "That's what they used to do." So that that word “they” disconnects me, disconnects everybody in our whole community, right? So what I like to do is "well yeah. This is how we came to be." Right? This is how we came, came to be. We're here today, we're alive today, we ain't going nowhere, we're alive today. But there's a story of how we came to be.

 

Jimmy

I’m Jimmy Gutierrez and this is Human Powered. A podcast from Wisconsin Humanities and Love Wisconsin about how people make places better.

Now I’m from Milwaukee and the shores of Lake Michigan, but I recognize and appreciate all of the beauty that is Lake Superior. I myself cannot get enough of Bayfield County and the Apostle Islands...Home to some of the most beautiful wild spaces in the state .

It’s also the home of some of Wisconsin’s more than 85 thousand Indigenous residents. That includes folks on reservations, descended from people forced to resettle in designated spaces across the U.S.

Tribal members in Red Cliff are from the Red Cliff band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. And they also identify as Anishinaabe.

Today, tribal leaders are working to reclaim and revitalize the deep history and culture of their people—and are connecting with a new generation of scholars committed to centering indigenous knowledge. Red Cliff is one place where that is happening.

That’s where we’re starting today, with Marvin Defoe.

 

Marvin

We're sitting right here now on what we call our cultural grounds. It's about 38 acres. And what we're doing is, how we could make this into a learning opportunity culturally, for the community.

 

Jimmy

Marvin is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for Red Cliff. Otherwise known as the THPO.

The TPHO office is in charge of a lot of things. Things like the annual pow wow, the language school, and making sure none of their sacred sites get disturbed. So sometimes, Marvin gets calls from archeologists. Archeologists like Heather Walder.

 

Heather

I remember being in my, like, terrible apartment calling Marvin cold to speak with a TIPO, um, to talk about this project.

 

Jimmy

Heather works at UW-La Crosse and the Chicago Field Museum.

 

Heather

Mostly I spent that hour just listening. And kind of asking questions, like if you could do archeology in Red Cliff, what would you be interested in looking at?

 

Marvin

And I had a hunch. You know, when Heather gave me a call in Red Cliff. “Do you know of any place in Red Cliff, that maybe we could kind of take a look at or whatever?” I started thinking, I say, “Yeah, we can go out to Frog Bay.” Just a gut feeling.

 

Jimmy

Being Indigenous in Red Cliff, you’ve got to trust your gut.

 

And that’s because Marvin *knows* his history. A history, when it comes to these United States, that’s defined by removal and genocide.

 

Marvin

Throughout time, there's always been a policy or initiative to kind of do away with the Indian, you know, kind of do away with the land.

 

Jimmy

Some of the formal U.S. policies start as far back as 1830. That’s when President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the government to “exchange” land east of the Mississippi river where Native Americans were living— for other land in the west.

 

Marvin

It was an executive order from the President of the United States to remove all Indigenous people from the east coast all the way through to the Mississippi River, telling all Indigenous people "get the hell out. Get off that land. Get out."

 

Jimmy

Over the next 20 years, thousands of Indigenous people died because they were forced out of their homes. Most of us have heard this story as the Trail of Tears.

But government policies aren’t the only way that violence shapes history. Archeologists, anthropologists, and other people with Western scientific training have also come into native spaces dehumanizing people for study.

 

Marvin

Indian people have been studied to death, you know, study after study, after study, after study. And throughout my life what happened to indigenous people throughout this land really wasn't a good perspective on what our people were categorized as, you know--savages, red man, pagans, heathens.

 

Jimmy

Disregard for native lives is not the distant past. It’s in Marvin’s lifetime. It’s still happening today. There are several documented cases of burial mounds being destroyed for development projects in the last 20 years.

 

Marvin

Throughout the United States, archaeologists if you will, or construction people if you will, been digging graves up, digging bones up, with, with no regard to the remains.

 

Jimmy

And when you lose history, you open wounds.

Marvin had a good friend whose grandparents’ were taken out of their graves. Their artifacts taken to museums or stolen. He and Marvin drove past that spot sometimes.

 

Marvin

He'd almost start crying when he'd go by that place and I, "how come you're? How come you're, when you go by there you feel that way?" or whatever. "Why? My grandma and my grandpa's vest and stuff were hung out on a clothesline right there. Dug right out the ground." You know, dug right out of the ground.

 

Jimmy

And even now, museums like the Logan Museum of Archeology in Beloit, still have the remains of an Indigenous woman and her child in their collection.

 

Marvin

I start to think, I wonder what I would do right now, if my mother and my sister were sitting down in a museum? What would you do? You know, you'd want to put them to rest, right? So there’s story after story after story, is what I’m saying.

So all of a sudden we say, well, we got some archaeologists that want to come up to Red Cliff, you can't help but think about all that, you know, you can't, you can't help because that's the history of it.

 

Jimmy

Getting back to that phone call Marvin took with Heather. He at a gut feeling that something was out at Frog Bay. Heather started on some background research.

 

Marvin

She discovered through Beloit college that they had boxes of artifacts from Red Cliff from back in the 70s. Right. And on that box was Frog Bay. And the other one was the pageant grounds. And the other one was, you know. That’s what we found out. And they said, Marvin, do you want, do you want…? Well, yeah, bring them in! So we brought them in.

 

Jimmy

Heather connected with Nicolet Meister. She’s the director of the Logan Museum and worked with Heather and John to safely transfer the artifacts back to the tribe.

 

Heather

I remember having nothing but like a rolled up mattress in my car and these artifacts and I was leaving De Kalb for the last time. I drove straight up to Beloit, picked up the artifacts and then was able to take them to UW-La Crosse, to do a quick inventory. And then we returned the artifacts to Red Cliff before a tribal council meeting. And that was when the tribal council members were really seeing these artifacts returning for the first time.

 

Marvin

We just shared it — some of these artifacts, which was like copper. Kind of passed it around and just by touching it, it's right here Red Cliff, right here at Frog bay, look at that: 5,000 years old!  Right here. It’s our footprint. So it just kind of overwhelmed everyone.

We kind of realized, you know, that it could help tell our story.

 

Jimmy

Holding these artifacts is more than history. It’s a way to heal.

Establishing trust with an archeologist like Heather gave Marvin, and the tribal council, an opportunity to reclaim some of the knowledge of this place. To undo some of the historical trauma that’s been done. And to imagine a new way to do archeology.

After that meeting, the tribal council approved Heather and John’s dig. They would do it together with Marvin and the TPHO office, back in Frog Bay, where the artifacts came from.

 

Jimmy

Frog Bay Tribal National Park is a pretty wild space of land—old growth forest that goes right down to the shore of Lake Superior. It faces northeast, with amazing views of the Apostle Islands.

The place itself is part of the historical trauma here. Several generations back, the land was owned by an elder—but it was taken away from her because she owed less than 3 dollars in property taxes.

 

Marvin

They stole that land. They may have stole it legally. You know, it'll hold up in court. We got the deed, but you coerced, coerced our elders into that, you know?

 

Jimmy

After a series of owners who openly threatened tribal members...

 

Marvin

It wasn't too long ago, if we went down there he’d come and put a gun to your head.

 

Jimmy

…the land was acquired by a conservationist who was willing to sell the land back to the tribe. Under one condition: they conserve it. The whole thing was messy and complicated, so, Marvin went ahead and created the first tribal national park in the country.

 

Marvin

I remember sitting there, well, what are we gonna do? We got to have this conservancy and this and that? I said, well, just make a national park. What are we going to call it? I don't know. Frog Bay Tribal National Park. How's that? Hey, that sounds good. Okay. Frog Tribal National Park like that, you know, and that took about 15 seconds to do it.

 

Jimmy

The dig started at Frog Bay Tribal National Park in 2019. A whole crew was there—Heather, her collaborator John Creese from the University of North Dakota, and some of their students. There was also a crew from Red Cliff. Heather and John knew that for this project to work, they had to overcome a legacy of archeologists in this land. Here’s John.

 

John

As a non-Native person—as a settler, you know, Euro-American person—I feel a responsibility, and as an archeologist, because of the history of our discipline, kind of coming in and treating Native people as either research subjects or worse, I feel like it's our responsibility to kind of rectify and start to heal those, those historical wounds.

 

Marvin

We're very cautious, you know? Because I told you, we’re studied to death and you want to be careful on, on that. You ever hear that song from Floyd? Do you know Floyd Westerman?

 

Music

“Here comes the anthros."

 

Marvin

Floyd Westerman was a singer. He’s a Native guy. I played that to the archaeologists when they were here (laughing) You know, “Here comes the anthro" is kind of like the studied Indian, you know, that kind of a thing, but—that’s kinda what it took, really I had to have our culture be comfortable, somehow be comfortable with the work that we want to do, and trying to do, and they had to understand what it was.

 

Jimmy

Heather and John got the message. They set up the field school to engage and really listen to the community. Heather’s experience includes projects where you dig as much, as fast as possible. But at Frog Bay, it was about slowing down and bringing folks out to the site.

 

Heather

I need to flip a mental switch when I go to field school. To say it's okay, we're going slow. Today we've got kids,  tomorrow we've got elders, and that's way more important than digging another 10 centimeters of dirt out of the ground.

 

Jimmy

Asking tribal members for input is crucial as the group makes sense of what they find in the ground.

 

Heather

So bringing in things like oral histories and oral traditions, bringing in community members to get their perspectives on different artifacts, or even going out to the site, when community members or elders come out to the site and kind of hearing their thoughts on the use of space or how the place might have looked or maybe even envisioning who might have lived there.

It brings in storytelling. It brings in community knowledge and it brings in culture in a way that interpretive frameworks in Western science and archeology don't always do.

 

John

The history of the discipline, unfortunately, is one that has often marginalized indigenous voices and not necessarily considered contemporary community members to have a lot to offer to the academic interpretive process.

 

Jimmy

John Creese again

 

John

And I feel like we've discovered that that's just the opposite in reality.

 

Jimmy

Indigenous knowledge is a resource that’s always been overlooked and undervalued by western science. But here in Red Cliff—it led to some big breakthroughs.

 For example, take the bunches and bunches of cracked rocks that were being found all over the site.

 

John

So these are rocks that basically burst when they get heated. And they’re evidence of people obviously heating them for some purpose, and you know, we had various ideas about why, why are we finding these sort of piles of fire cracked rocks? You know, it was this like some kind of baking feature, or, something else?

 

Jimmy

Heather and John had academic knowledge of these rocks. But they wondered if Indigenous knowledge or technologies were better, or more useful, than what they knew. And Marvin had an idea.

 

Marvin

Heat them up, put them in a container. I call that an Anishinaabe microwave. A microwave oven, you know? You can make it out of cedar.

 

Jimmy

Marvin’s Anishinaabe microwave came from a story he heard from an Indigenous elder in Canada. That elder took his grandkids out for a weekend to share traditions. One morning, they caught fish and started a fire.

 

Marvin

So he took the fish, heated up them rocks, and he put that fish in there. And in the woods they got some wild onions, put it in there, and he put little wild rice in there and put them rocks in there.

Put the top on, wrapped it all up with that buckskin, tied it up and propped it in a bow of his canoe. And off they went on their journey.

 

Jimmy

A few hours later, they had a delicious lunch, cooked with hot rocks inside of a cedar log. Top Chef has nothing on this.

Heather, John, and Marvin wanted to share this technique. And they wanted to do it using the rocks found at the Frog Bay site.

 

Heather

So we were literally cooking with stones from the same location where people had probably been cooking with stones 5,000 years ago. And I feel like that really does connect the past to the present in a very physical, visceral way.

 

Sound

Hissssssssssss!

 

Jimmy

Today, Marvin shared that meal with us. The same meal an elder shared with his grandkids just a few years ago. A meal that was shared with the people at Frog Bay who lived here 5,000 years ago.

 

Edwina

When you walk back there, you certainly know, if you're in tune to those kinds of things, you can certainly feel a presence, a heartbeat, a chill.

 

Jimmy
Edwina Buffalo-Reyes works in the THPO  office with Marvin. It was overwhelming for her to be on site.

 

Edwina

You know, there were certain times where I actually had to walk away from the site. And, you know, they the site is not far from the shore. So, you know, you walk away and you're like, standing in front of Lake Superior, and you almost think like, this is what people 5,000 years ago were looking at, I'm looking at the same thing. I'm seeing the same exact thing that they're seeing.

 

Jimmy

Edwina was in charge of one of the most restorative aspects of the field school at Frog Bay. It was an internship program started in 2019 that brought three Tribal high school students out to the site. The interns worked at the dig site and got to learn about what happens in the THPO office.

 

Edwina

Being able to witness them being exposed to things that I wasn't exposed to when I was younger, was really touching. It was almost emotional, you know?

 

Jimmy

Edwina grew up in Red Cliff, but has never experienced anything like this.

 

Edwina

I think this project in the summer of 2019, the entire summer was really honestly a highlight of my life because it was something that I've never done before. I grew up in Red Cliff – I was born in Milwaukee but I grew up in Red Cliff - and I didn't leave the area until I was maybe 24, 25, maybe a little bit older, 26.

So this is my home. This is my community. But never did I imagine, you know, or think about archeology or, you know, who was here before us?

 

Heather

Archaeology has the power to be restorative and healing, and Indigenous.

 

Jimmy

Here’s Heather again

 

Heather

And it's not there yet. But we are trying to kind of grow homegrown Anishinaabe archaeologists so that Red Cliff can become more completely independent of academic programs like this. So we sort of want to put ourselves out of a job long term.

 

Jimmy

Edwina and Marvin’s work in the THPO office is to keep Anishinaabe culture thriving.

 

Edwina

My take on history is, you know, if you don't know where you come from you might have a hard time getting to where you're going.

It's exciting to know that my seven year old son will be exposed to the things that I'm just starting to become exposed to, and that's how he's gonna live. That's how he's going to grow up.

 

Jimmy

Through these revitalization efforts, Edwina is breaking cycles of generational trauma for her son and kids like him. Trauma that was always intentional. Trauma that finds healing as far back as 5,000 years.

 

Edwina

The children in this community, they, you know, they're important and they're special and they deserve to be exposed, they deserve to be in immersed in culture and language. That's their that's the right as Anishinaabe kids they deserve that.

 

Marvin

We all have a job to do today. We have a job to undo, undo what happened to us as Indigenous people. What I mean by part of the job to do is, if you if you teach a child to love the land, that child will protect it. He'll protect the land if you teach him, but you got to teach him.

And part of, part of how you love the land is you got to understand yourself and love yourself as a Native person and understand those teachings that make you Anishinaabe and it ain’t just doing an archeological thing, it's it's it's… you live it. Zitugawin—you live it

Be proud of who you are because throughout history you have, what are the elements of being healthy? Well you got to have a roof over your head. You got to have food. You got to be warm. But there's one element in there, too, and that’s your soul, your spirit, that's important, too. You can have all this but you could still be goddamn depressed because don't know who you are, or you still can be bullied because you got brown skin or you still can be and it just works on your spirit. So what we're saying is, hold your head up and be proud. Be proud who you are.


 

Credits

Wisconsin Humanities and Love Wisconsin have teamed up to make six monthly episodes of Human Powered because we believe that sharing stories about people making their communities better helps us all imagine what is possible.

For every episode, we pull together extras -- like photos, resources, and background info. For this episode, you can watch a video of the Anishinaabe Microwave in action. Visit the Wisconsin humanities website to check it out.

Human Powered is produced by Craig Eley and Jade Iseri-Ramos at Field Noise Soundworks, along with Jessica Becker. Story editing by Jen Rubin. Special thanks to Marvin DeFoe, Edwina Buffalo-Reyes, Alex Breslov, Richard LaFernier, and the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Department of Education at Red Cliff.

Dena Wortzel and Brijetta Waller are Executive Producers. The show is mixed by Rob Byers, Johnny Vince Evans, and Michael Raphael of Final Final Vee Two. I’m your host, Jimmy Gutierrez.

Visit wisconsinhumanities.org and LoveWI.com for more information about this episode and our work.