This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Valerie Grussing: Jessie Conaway is speaking on behalf of Edith Leoso today, who is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior, the Lake Superior Tribe of the Chippewa. Edith had several conflicts and emergencies and could not make it to Madison today. Jessie, did you finish your Ph.D.? Yay. Congrats, doctor. Does environmental outreach and education with the tribes of Wisconsin. She works with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies of UW Madison and tribes on projects involving watershed education, water stewardship, cultural mapping, and climate change adaptation.

Jessie Conaway:  I’m here to talk about the Bad River Water & Culture Maps Project: Countermapping with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. As Val mentioned, my research partner is Edith Leoso. She’s the Bad River Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and she was going to be speaking today as well, but I’m here to let you know about this project that I did as part of my Ph.D. research here at UW Madison. Let’s get started. These are my funders and sponsors. This is community-based research, so this image shows the many small contributions that made this project happen. So here’s what we’re up to today. I’m talking about participatory mapping of TEK. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the people and the place, and then talking about process cartography to reflect and leverage traditional knowledge.

This is qualitative mapping, so we leverage story and narrative alongside with quantitative data about watersheds. Then I’ll finish up talking about the impacts of this project, local region, education, and policy. To get oriented … Where’s the pointer? On the side? Oh, middle, thanks. Yeah. We’re up here on the Great Lakes, western Lake Superior. Let’s zoom in. Here are the Great Lakes. This is America’s north coast. There we go. Apostle Islands, Dave Cooper was talking to you about these yesterday. The Apostle Islands are the spiritual and cultural hub for Lake Superior Ojibwe people. The Bad River Indian Reservation is right there at the southern end of the islands. Here’s a zoom-in on the Bad River watershed and reservation. The light green shape files shows the Bad River watershed boundary and then the light brown is showing the reservation boundary. Anyway, this pointer is off and on.

The water flows north here out of the Penokee Mountains into Lake Superior. That describes the Nest of the Thunderbirds that Edith Leoso was going to be talking to you about today. That’s the Nest, that light green boundary there. This is an image of the Penokee Mountains. These rise eleven hundred feet above the level of Lake Superior and then again water flows north there. This is a very water-rich environment, rich in wetlands, waterfalls, and springs. This is the headwaters of the Bad River, so this is one of the headwater wetlands of the Bad River watershed. In Ojibwe, this is MashkiiZiibi which means “wetland medicine river.” Got renamed the “Bad,” but that’s a story for another day. Picture of one of the waterfalls in the highlands. This is on Tyler Forks, which is one of the main tributaries of the Bad River. Then here’s one of the reservation beaches, so where the Bad River comes out into Lake Superior, this is what is looks like there.

This is the crown jewel of the Bad River Reservation. This is called the Bad River and Kakagon Sloughs. This is the largest coastal estuary that’s intact on Lake Superior. It’s also the largest intact wild rice bed on all of the Great Lakes. Here, if the pointer will work for me, which it’s not. Anyway, you can see the Bad River coming out and then you can see one of the old oxbows there. You can also see on the bottom of the photograph some of the wild rice beds. On the top of the photograph is a smaller river called Kakagon coming out into the west-side of this slough. This is an enormous cultural and ecological resource that the Bad River Band are stewards of. These are the wild rice beds. Zooming in on the sloughs, this is what it looks like when you’re in a boat on the water and you’re looking at the rice. Here’s a close-up of wild rice. Wild rice is food that grows on water.

Lake Superior Ojibwe people were guided to this place by prophecy, a migration story, which is their origin story, from the east coast up, what’s now called the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the place where food grows on water. This area was the seventh stopping place and the place that then became, like I said, the spiritual and cultural hub for all of Lake Superior Ojibwe on the US and Canada side. Again, enormous ecological and cultural resource that Bad River are keeping. This is a picture of the Manawan pow-wow. In Lake Superior Ojibwe tradition, the women are the keepers of the water, and so here they’re depicted, this is the Midewiwin, or women of the medicine lodge, who are doing a water ceremony in these copper kettles. Many of these of copper kettles have been passed down for many generations. You might have heard of Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, who’s the Midewiwin Lake Superior Ojibwe from Grand Portage. She’s walked around all of the Great Lakes in ceremony for Great Lakes water stewardship. These ceremonies are a big part of water stewardship.

For my project, I worked with youth and elders in cultural mapping. This was a picture of two of my helpers, Joe Rose Sr. is on the left, and then Tia Burns is one of my youth helpers. This project resulted in four maps and four media, so a cultural atlas, a wall map, a web map that the tribal youth made, and then also an enormous interactive watershed floor map that’s twenty by thirty feet, and that has traveled all over the state. We wanted to make maps for use and outreach education and policy. Also, wanted to as an academic contribute to best practices for outsiders and university people who are working in indigenous communities and participatory mapping. I built on the work of GLIFWC, this is the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. They produce this Ojibwemowin, Ojibwe language map. The pink on the bottom is the Bad River Reservation. What we did, was we took this and then we zoomed in on the reservation to map more of the local places that this larger area map did not depict.

What did this look like on the ground? This is community-based research that we launched this project last year. It took two years of planning, and execution, and then, like I said, launched in 2014. Working with elders and youth, the goal was that this was decolonizing, so collaborative, tribally-led, using indigenous research methods, having local research partners who are tribal members from the community, and bringing in tribal priorities, such as language. If you’re not familiar with the term, countermapping means using western mapping methods for indigenous purposes, and so that’s where that term comes from. We’re leveraging a counter-narrative, counter to what … If I’m a tourist visiting Madeline Island, for example, I might hear one narrative of the people who are living there now, the Swedes and the Finns, but the counter-narrative is a layer below the indigenous narrative, and so maps are very effective at portraying this.

Also, with the Bad River watershed, recently you may have heard, it didn’t hit the national media too much, but you may have heard that a mine for Taconite was being proposed in the headwaters of the Bad River. This project helped to address that threat in real time. This is a picture of the wall map. The process of making these, I interviewed thirteen elders and other community leaders in Bad River. They interacted with two large poster maps with Mylar over them and then used sharpies and stickers to indicate areas that told a particularly important story about water in the Bad River watershed, but also the whole Ojibwe seated territories, which stretches across Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. That was the first layer of data.

I also worked with a youth group. We did a watershed education program called Bad River Youth Outdoors. That was another part of my project, which was team taught by myself and community members in Bad River, elders, natural resource employees.  This was a four week program in which we developed a campus based on the maps that the elders had helped me produce and then we developed our campus for the youth based on that. Then the kids went to these places and added their own layer of data to our story maps. This is a picture of us paddling on MashkiiZiibi, which is now called … or in English, the Bad River. These kids were clicking wave points, so here’s one of them with a GPS, so they’re clicking wave points and then adding audio and photos to their layer of data for these story maps. This is us at Sugar Bush Lake, that was our holy grail. Then here, that’s a picture of Edith Leoso. This is us out on Madeline Island on the Bad River tribal land that is on the east, northeast end of the island. One of our products was the wall map, like I mentioned. This is us at our map launch at the pow-wow grounds. Then here’s a picture of the floor map that has, like I said, traveled all over the state. We’re at an audience of over ten thousand now for this floor map.

The web map, and cultural atlas, and wall map are all Ojibwe perspectives. I’ll pass this around. The floor map was a blank slate, so this is a public conversation starter. This map is made out of billboard material and people add stories to it with sharpies about the Bad River watershed and the Apostle Islands. There’s a picture of myself and one of my assistant instructors on the floor map. People interacting with it, so they’re adding place names, they’re adding personal stories. This is tribal and non-tribal stories that get added to this. We went spearing here, which this is the kids talking about spearing for walleye on Namekagon. The kids are excited about their map. This is Tia showing off the web map that the kids made the following winter at one of our public launches in 2014. Two minutes. Stories are missing from watershed data, so when we think about watersheds it’s mostly numbers that contribute to our academic understanding.

What we did with this project was look at how narratives from tribal people can be mapped as a layer of data, multiple layers of data, like I said, youth and elders, to contribute to both tribal and non-tribal understanding of that watershed and that place. This project showed that water and stories are both organizing forces in communities, and they’re also a common ground for myself as an academic and a paddler, working in a tribal community. These were water and stories were what we really found as common ground. With the narratives, this is use of narrative in mapping is appropriate for representing traditional knowledge. This is more of the academic backdrop to it, if you’re interested in that, looking at maps as a middle ground and creating learning communities to make this work happen, leveraging indigenous research methods, like I said, talking circles.

To make sure that the products that we were launching … that everybody in the community was okay with those, we did multiple community feedback sessions with drafts of the maps and people would weigh in on what they wanted in the maps, what they didn’t want in the maps, and so we did community feedback sessions over about six months with these maps. Edith also helped me with disclaimers for the maps and the lady from Hawaii was talking about this, so mapping … Trying to map indigenous perspectives about a place doesn’t always jive with what someone might expect when they’re looking at a map. The way we explained that, was we used disclaimers to explain more of the native perspective backdrop to how these maps are produced and used. You’ll see some of these in the booklet that’s going around, those disclaimers. I’ll wrap up here. Our impacts, I’ll just key in on a couple.

The Bad River Band wanted to use these for education and outreach and that’s gone awesome. In our first year the maps were at fifteen events all over the state. We’ve also developed curriculum for the maps for teaching middle school, high school, and college level. Using Act 31 as a local native education policy that was implemented after the Walleye Wars here in Wisconsin, and so we used the Act 31 statutes to produce our curriculum for these maps. All of this is available on our website, which is You’ll see more about the project there, as well as the maps are featured there. The maps are copyrighted to the Bad River Tribe and so now those are on the website as well and people can download those or use them in the classroom.

The maps are also used by Bad River Tribal Council in regional politics and also sustainable economic development planning. They actually have another version, a blank version of the enormous floor map that they use for regional planning. Those are some unexpected impacts that are also very rewarding, and so the maps are working. This is a picture of us. Here at UW Madison we hosted a UW Native Nations Summit this past year, it was the first time in a hundred years that we had leadership and other representatives from all the Wisconsin tribes here on campus. This was a centennial event. Here are many of the tribal leaders on the floor map. That’s a way to stay in touch.

Thank you.


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