Six Ways of Seeing the St. Croix: Native lands

The St. Croix River watershed is the homeland of the Ojibwe and Dakota, who continue to live here and retain legal rights to the land and water.




3 minute read

There’s much more to Native American connections to the land than a map can portray. This is a sensitive and complex subject that I don’t presume to fully understand. Nonetheless, the St. Croix watershed has long been the homeland of the Ojibwe and Dakota people, as well as cultures that came before, and it makes sense to conclude the map series with recognition of the people and their lands. This information is neither complete nor authoritative.

Native Americans signed treaties with the U.S. government in the mid-19th century that let the United States begin to settle the St. Croix River region and extract its resources. These treaties notably guaranteed to the Ojibwe and Dakota in perpetuity numerous rights to the land. The U.S. government has long ignored those rights, but tribes have advocated for their sovereignty and self-determination again and again, proving their legal rights to hunt, fish, and harvest.

The most significant treaties affecting the watershed were signed with the Ojibwe and Dakota in 1837.

At the time, most dealings between indigenous people and the United States was over fur trading in the area, and the white people who led the effort to sign the treaties were largely rooted in fur trading. But a year after the signing, the first loggers had already arrived and began picking out places for their sawmills and lumber camps. Because the Ojibwe were only really aware of the fur trading interest, it seems they were misled to a point.

“Ojibwe negotiators made it clear, however, that they were retaining rights to deciduous trees in the region (among other rights), going so far as to lay an oak leaf in front of U.S. negotiator Henry Dodge to clarify their point. In fact, extensive evidence indicates that the Ojibwe believed they were merely leasing use of the pine forests, and many refused to leave the ceded territory, preferring to stay and exercise the rights to land use that they retained in the treaty.”

1837 Land Cession Treaties with the Ojibwe & Dakota, Why Treaties Matter

In addition to retaining legal rights to continue accessing natural resources, the tribes also retained reservations that remain as cultural centers. The major reservation and other Native lands in the watershed are part of the St. Croix Chippewa, a tribe that was left out of treaties and only recognized by the federal government in 1934.

The St. Croix Chippewa operate a casino in Danbury, Wisc. and has about 4,700 acres of lands scattered across northwestern Wisconsin. Other tribal businesses include a grocery store, construction company, and commericial fishery. There are currently more than 1,000 members of the St. Croix Chippewa, and the tribe is the largest employer in Burnett County.

“The St. Croix Reservation is composed of small tracts of lands representing communities made up of families who have frequently lived in the same vicinity for generations. The reservation communities are separated by 50 miles at their greatest distance. The five major St. Croix Tribal communities are Sand Lake, Danbury, Round Lake, Maple Plain, and Gaslyn. They occupy land in Barron, Burnett, Polk and Douglas Counties. Our Reservation lands occupy 4,689 acres.”

On the western side of the St. Croix are several communities and lands associated with the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa, which has a larger reservation along the south shore of Lake Mille Lacs. The Lake Lena Community east of Hinckley is probably the largest center outside the main reservation.

One observation looking at this map is how all the major reservations are located just outside the watershed. Perhaps the United States officials who decided such things knew better than to turn over valuable timber in a region that loggers wanted, preserving access to just about every tree that could easily be floated down to the mills of Stillwater.

More information:

Note: This is the sixth map in the Six Ways of Seeing the St. Croix Series. Please see the previous posts here. Thanks for all the great feedback, St. Croix 360 will continue occasionally producing watershed maps like these in the future. We are also working on an exciting effort to make printed maps available.


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2 responses to “Six Ways of Seeing the St. Croix: Native lands”

  1. Ted Eastlund Avatar
    Ted Eastlund

    Great map of Native American tribal areas in the watershed!

  2. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Nice, thanks for the info.!


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Six Ways of Seeing the St. Croix: Native lands