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Thursday, July 14, 2022

Water protectors complete 4th Annual Menominee on Menominee Canoe Trip against threat of Back 40 mining project

By Michele Bourdieu, with photos, videos and commentary by Mark Doremus, Wayne Swett, Dawn Wilber* and other water protectors

Canoeists met challenges of strong winds during the 2022 Menominee on the Menominee Canoe Trip. On July 3, the fourth day, they finally approach their destination -- the harbor at Menominee (Mich.)/ Marinette (Wis.). (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Water protectors from the Menominee Indian Tribe have completed their fourth annual four-day canoe trip (June 30 - July 3) down their namesake river.

"This river was named after us, the Menominee River," said Dawn Wilber, an event co-organizer. "So here we are again, for four years, showing our connection to the river. The eagles, the deer, the turtles, the fish -- the Northern Pike jumping -- it's amazing."

Dawn, who teaches Menominee culture and language at Menominee High School in Keshena, Wis., said this year's trip was preceded by a Tour of Ancient Cultural Sites on June 29, 2022, near the launch site for Day 1 of the canoe trip.

Dawn Wilber is pictured here with her nieces and nephews, who attended the June 29 Ancient Tour along with other students. (Photo © and courtesy Dawn Wilber)

"Our kick-off to our 4th Annual Menominee on the Menominee Canoe Paddle this year was an Ancient Tour on June 29th," Dawn noted on Facebook. "We were asked by our Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) to give their students a tour of our Ancient Cultural Sites that still exist from millennia ago. Our students were taken to the different areas, and we explained about what was there and why we need to protect it. We also talked about how important it is to educate themselves so that in the future they can protect it for their children and their children’s children and their children’s children. Just like our Ancestors thought. It was an amazing day!"

During the Tour, students have lunch at the Woman's Dance Ring where their ancestors once sat. (Photo © and courtesy Dawn Wilber) 

Ann (Annie) Wilber, far right, tells students an ancient story. Students learned about the ancient garden beds, cache pits and burial mounds. (Photo © and courtesy Dawn Wilber)

Dawn Wilber is pictured here with Manih Boyd, Sustainable Education Coordinator, who asked Dawn to give the Culture Tour for her SDI summer program. (Photo © and courtesy Dawn Wilber)

The canoe trip started on June 30 at the Sixty Islands location, where Gold Resource Corp. wants to build an open-pit and underground mine next to the river. Aquila Resources, Inc., tried to develop the "Back Forty" project for almost 20 years before Gold Resource Corp. bought the company out late last year.

The Menominee people lived along the river for generations before they were removed to a reservation in Wisconsin. The proposed mine site and surrounding area contain burial mounds, garden beds, dance rings and other cultural resources that are sacred to the tribe, which opposes the project. 

The voyage was an effort at "re-integrating our people and our youth back into our ancestral homeland," said Annie Wilber, a member of the tribe and event facilitator. "Those are historical sites up there," Annie added. "That's what we're up here protecting today." 

Dawn Wilber's Culture Tour acquainted students with some of those sacred sites and taught them the reason for the canoe trip: protecting the sacred sites and protecting the Menominee River.

Day 1: June 30

Women participants in the canoe trip held a water ceremony just before the launch on June 30. The photo is not the actual ceremony, but represents it. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Canoe trip participants prepare for the launch on Day 1. (Photo © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Non-native supporters and friends also joined the Menominee on their canoe voyage.

One of them was Mary Hansen, an area resident who has helped organize opposition to the proposed mine.

Mary has an illness that largely confines her to a wheelchair, but she rode a canoe for the first day of the journey, guided by Wayne Swett, a tribal member and event co-organizer who's made the trip every year.

Videographer Mark Doremus interviews Mary Hansen on June 30, Day 1 of the canoe trip. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

"It was unbelievably beautiful," Mary said. "There was a little fear getting in the canoe at first but that worked out okay. I didn't tip it over and dump everybody in the river. So, I was real happy about that."

Mary Hansen takes photos and videos from the canoe paddled by Wayne Swett on June 30, Day 1 of the canoe trip. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Mary Hansen describes canoeing on the Menominee River on Day 1 of the 2022 Menominee on the Menominee Canoe Trip, to call attention to the Back 40 mining project and its threats to the river. Hansen is a volunteer for the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River. (Video by Mary Hansen)

Mary Hansen took this photo of an eagle's nest from the canoe. (Photo © and courtesy Mary Hansen)

From the canoe, Mary Hansen captures an eagle in flight, a good sign for canoeists, Native and non-Native. (Video © and courtesy Mary Hansen)

Videographer Mark Doremus shared this video of Mary on her Day 1 canoe experience:

Mary Hansen has been fighting to protect the Menominee for years. She finally got a chance to experience the river first-hand when she joined the Fourth Annual Menominee on the Menominee Canoe Trip. (Video by Mark Doremus)

"It was a gorgeous trip and I'm going to be even more protective of this river and the land, and those burial mounds," Mary said.

Swim stops were important breaks for the canoe trip participants. Sometimes they included water fights for fun:

During the first swim hole/lunch stop, Mark got into the middle of a water war getting footage. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Lunch during the first swim stop on Day 1. Wayne Swett commented that Annie Wilber, chief cook for the trip, always fixed up a most appreciated lunch to take along during the 4 days. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Lori Paitl of Menominee, Mich., a friend of Mary Hansen, also joined the canoe trip on Day 1. In a July 1 Facebook post, Lori commented on the experience.

"Yesterday we canoed (12) miles down the beautiful Menominee River with our favorite friends, the Menominee Tribe, through Wind, Rain, Sun and Mild Rapids," Lori writes. "We saw (12) Eagles in (12) miles and (3) huge  Eagle's Nests and almost Got Smacked on the Lips by a super-friendly Sturgeon trying to jump into Oralann's canoe. An AMAZING EXPERIENCE!"

Lori Paitl is pictured here on Day 1 with Mary Hansen and Mark Doremus. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Lori continues, "Do Not Even Think About Destroying this Magnificent Gift We have been Given -- the MeNOMINEe River -- To Enjoy, Not Destroy and To Protect for Generations to Come. Borrowing this great point from our dear Water Protector friend, Jeff Lindbom: Be the Voice of The River. Staying Silent is Giving Your Consent. Water Is Life. No Back 40 Mine."

Day 2: July 1

Wayne Swett photographed this early morning, peaceful scenic view of the Menominee River just before the canoe launch on Day 2. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Canoeists stop to see friend Jeff Lindbom, pictured here, on Day 2. "Jeff couldn't join us on this leg so we decided to stop by his place," said Wayne Swett. "He did join us on the river at Stephenson island to the end." (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

The next stop on Day 2 was the favorite swimming hole.

This favorite swimstop gave everyone a chance to rest and cool off. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Dawn Wilber and her two great-nieces -- Izabella, left, and Aurora, take advantage of the favorite swimstop for a little water fight. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Day 3: July 2

Venison and eggs for breakfast first thing on Day 3, July 2. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

First portage at a place called Turtle nation. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Following the portage, the group paddled to their next stop, the home of Sal and Ed Draze. They set up camp and enjoyed the cooking of Annie Wilber and her daughter Jazzlynn.

Annie Wilber and her daughter Jazz prepare a boiled dinner and squash for the group. "Annie spoiled us and kept us well fed as we burned the calories paddling," said Wayne. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Fire keeper Dave Oshkosh moved the sacred fire to the new camp at the Draze residence. The paddlers had a cooking fire and a sacred fire. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Dave Oshkosh, pictured here on June 29, undertook the responsibility of moving the sacred fire from place to place on the trip. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Hosts Sally and Ed Draze welcomed the canoe trip participants for their July 2 overnight stop. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Sally and Ed Draze are volunteers for the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, a group that opposes the Back 40 mining project. When Sally heard the Menominee canoe trip participants needed a place to stay on July 2, she offered their property.

"Our water front offers easy access for the canoes to be parked and easy take off in the morning," Sally told Keweenaw Now.   We have been involved in fighting against the mine since November of 2015. The Menominee Nation has been very active in the cause too. It was an honor to let them stay at our place as they have done so much for our common cause."

View of the Menominee campers from Sally Draze's morning room. (Photo © and courtesy Sally Draze)

Campers gather around the sacred fire. Coals from the fire are transported from place to place in a dutch oven to keep the fire going during the entire trip. (Photo © and courtesy Sally Draze)

Cooks Annie and Jazz cut up leftovers from dinner to use for breakfast at the Draze home. No waste! (Photo © and courtesy Sally Draze)

Day 4: July 3

Campers rose early to set out on their final day on the river.

"Woke up to birds singing and someone's rooster from across the river," said Wayne Swett. "Moved our sacred fire downriver to the Menominee Bear where we'll finish our 48 mile, 4 day/3 night trip."

Near the Coalition welcome signs, canoes await the July 3 launch from the Draze property. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)**

On July 3, canoeists set out on the river, heading for their final destination -- the Menominee Bear at Menekaunee Harbor, the mouth of the river and the site of the cultural origins of the Menominee Tribe. (Photo © and courtesy Sally Draze)

Wayne Swett said the eagles stayed with the group as they traveled down the river.

"If we stopped for swim break or a launching there was always an eagle close by waiting for us," Swett noted. "Everyone got to drift under this one. This one must’ve just loved seeing us there. He just stayed with us until we passed by."

An eagle (on branch near center of photo) watches over the canoeists as they head down the Menominee River on Day 4, July 3. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

One important swim stop on Day 4 was Hunter's Point. This stop is named for Hunter Peters, who became ill here last year and had to be evacuated.

Swimming at Hunter's Point. "We all thought of you well this day, Hunter Peters, and missed ya!!" said Wayne. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

The group also visited the island that local resident Tom Boerner gifted to the Menominee nation. Boerner has been involved in challenging the Part 632 mining permit for the Back 40 mine.

On Day 4, canoeists pause on the island from Tom Boerner for a group photo. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Happy couple TJ and Cedar are pictured here on the island. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

The final portage destination was Cox Landing.

Canoeists head for the final portage on Day 4. In the foreground is Oralann Caldwell, paddling for Wayne while he shoots photos. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Wayne described the weather on this last leg of the journey: "Arrived at our final portage in Marinette/Menominee. 2 hard miles left! The winds were heavily blowing at us off of Lake Michigan."

Tina Lesperance, assisting from shore on Day 4, took this shot of the rough water on that windy day. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

The group arrived safely, welcomed by Mary Hansen and other water protectors in Menominee/Marinette.

Mary Hansen's welcome sign at the final destination near the Menominee Bear. (Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Water protectors pose for a group photo near the Menominee Bear, symbol of the Menominee cultural origins. Wayne Swett, leader and co-organizer of the canoe trips, is at far right next to Dawn Wilber. (Photo © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Annie Wilber summed up the importance of the canoe trip in this video by Mark Doremus:

"This is our homeland." Annie Wilber explains the significance of the Menominee River to her people -- and why it's vital to protect it. (Video © and courtesy Mark Doremus)

Wayne Swett
, leader and co-organizer of the Menominee canoe trips, concluded his narrative of the 2022 trip, which made this article possible: "We arrived! Finished! My phone battery died! After pics we loaded up and went to Applejacks pub for a well deserved meal! I'd like to say waewaenon to everybody that was involved and participated in the trip. Can't wait till next year. Planning for next year's trip has already begun. We are becoming recognized by people on the Menominee River as many greeted us as we came down." (Inset photo: Wayne Swett. Photo © and courtesy Wayne Swett)

Editor's Notes:

* Mark Doremus is a videographer / photographer who spent Day 1 and Day 4 recording aspects of the 2022 Menominee on the Menominee Canoe Trip. Keweenaw Now is grateful for his contribution of videos, photos and commentary. See more of his videos on the Facebook page Back 40 Film. Wayne Swett and Dawn Wilber are members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and co-organizers of all 4 Menominee Canoe Trips on the Menominee River to call attention to the threats from the proposed Back 40 mining project. 

** The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River is a legal non-profit organizing people who oppose the construction of the proposed Back Forty Mine on the Menominee River. The Coalition exists to pool resources and coordinate efforts in order to be more effective and works with the Menominee Tribe. The Coalition states the following in their philosophy of teamwork: "We believe we are saving lives. The mine would contaminate our air, waters, and soils. Contamination kills. We believe an organized approach is the best way to save our waters, wildlife, property values, sacred lands, tourism industry, and our people." The Coalition will be holding a Water Celebration from Noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, on Stephenson Island, 499 Bridge Street, Marinette, WI 54143

 
Click on poster for larger version or click here for details. (Poster courtesy Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River.)

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