Miskwaabikaang - The Red Cliff Reservation - hugs the northeastern shoreline of the Bayfield Peninsula, nestled between Cornucopia and Bayfield overlooking the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin. Red Cliff presents opportunities for community members and visitors to enjoy a beautiful area while also preserving our land and natural resources. The Red Cliff Band is also the largest employer in Bayfield County.
As a federally recognized tribe, Red Cliff continues to meet the standards set forth by the United States in establishing and maintaining government-to-government relations. These standards came under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The main criteria for a tribe to be recognized is the adoption of a representative form of government under a constitution and by-laws. Red Cliff passed its original constitution and by-laws on June 15, 1935. This Red Cliff Tribal Government is the political successor to more traditional forms of governance, including hereditary and clan leadership which were radically changed during and following the treaty era.
As of January 2021, there are 7,548 living Red Cliff Tribal Members.
- 1,237 live on the Red Cliff Reservation
- 555 live off the reservation in Bayfield County
- 5,756 live off the reservation outside of Bayfield County
Red Cliff, like other Lake Superior Chippewa, is proud to retain and preserve its Tribal Sovereignty. This means Red Cliff has the ability to govern its own people within the boundaries of the reservation, and allows Tribal Government to protect the rights of its citizens as reserved through various treaties, court decisions, and law.
Red Cliff is governed by an elected nine-member Tribal Council. This Tribal Council consists of a Tribal Chairperson, Vice-Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, and five At Large Members. Tribal Council elections occur annually in July and are staggered so the entire council cannot be replaced simultaneously. Each council member serves a two-year term. In odd years, there is an election for Chairperson, Treasurer, and three At Large seats. In even years, there is an election for Vice Chair, Secretary, and two At Large seats.
The Red Cliff Tribal Court has vested jurisdiction over violations of the Red Cliff Code of Laws. The Court consists of a Chief Judge, two Associate Judges, a Reserve Judge, and Magistrates as appointed by the Tribal Council.
Cultural expression in the arts has always been alive at Red Cliff and today it is experiencing a strong resurgence of interest as the next generation adds new ideas to the old. Whether in the traditional customs of hunting and fishing, gardening and wild food gathering, or in creative talents like manufacturing clothing and jewelry, or drawing and painting, writing, story-telling, poetry, and of course, song and dance––all these cultural talents provide a colorful window open to community life.
Historically the Ojibwe were known for their ability to defend themselves militarily, but they were also known as a fishing and ricing people, with villages located adjacent to large bodies of water. Today the seasons for harvesting these important foods still bracket the summer months as the people work to provide traditional year round sustenance. And as has been the case from the beginning, fishing and ricing are family-based activities carried out in networks of larger kin-groups. The classic fur-trading days are over, but winter’ hunting and trapping are still found, and they, too, involve a good degree of artistic skill.
Eye-catching Ojibwe bead work and the manufacturing of birch bark canoes are generally well known as important parts of culture at Red Cliff and today the community has numerous beading and birchbark artists. Perhaps lesser known are those who make drums and flutes, as well as other items like the ancient cedar knocking sticks for harvesting wild rice, the popular hand carved ice-fishing decoys, and even the artistic pieces of birch bark bitings.
Ojibwe culture is a woodland culture and this is reflected in the peoples’ artistic endeavors. They celebrate the world around them––their land, waters, forests, heavens, and the life within. The richness of this celebration comes out through their artistic expression. Feel free to take part, to move to the rhythm of the drum as you join the celebration.
Mural painted by Rita Vander Venter