The names of the Anishinaabe are many: Ojibwe, Chipewyan, Ojibwa, Chippewa; all united by a shared history of clans, language and culture, all identify the thousands of politically autonomous bands and tribes which make the Chippewa Nation the largest tribe in North America. Most significant among these shared political and cultural backgrounds are the spiritual practices and values of the Grand Medicine Society and its teachings, which continue today.
Situated along the shores of the legendary waters of Lake Superior, the Red Cliff Reservation is located at the extreme northern-most point of Wisconsin, on what’s now known as the Bayfield Peninsula and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. These lands and waters are renowned for their pristine environment, rugged waters, wilderness areas, and unique scenic beauty. The “People of the Big Water” or ‘gi-chi-b-waa-tig’ remain here today, at the hub or center of an historical, spiritual and cultural crossroads highly significant for the past 1,500 years but which extends back more than 4,000 years.
The inlet of Lake Superior known as Chequamegon Bay encompasses the spiritual center of Anishinaabe nations. The Anishinaabe were told by a prophet that a sacred shell would guide them on a generations-long journey moving West from the East Coast. The journey included seven stops and, ultimately, to the food that grows on the water, known as maa-no-min, or wild rice. The seventh and final stop was at the island called ‘Moo-ning-wana-kawn-ing’, which means the place of the yellowflicker bird. Centuries later, this island was renamed “Madeline Island” in honor of an Anishinaabe woman Ikwesewe, wife of a French fur trader who established the first fort and settlement there in 1693.
Among the smallest of the Indian reservations in Wisconsin today, Red Cliff was originally part of the LaPointe Band, the primary village of the Great Buffalo, Head Chief of the Anishinaabe. The Great Buffalo is a historical tribal leader, most widely known for his role as peacemaker in the formation of the Treaty of 1854 which ceded the largest amount of land in the northern and western chores of Lake Superior. Prior to the Treaty of 1854 and despite several earlier treaties, the U.S. Government attempted to eliminate or remove all tribes to locations west of the Mississippi River with the passage of the Indian Removal Act, signed by President Jackson in 1830. The Indian Removal Act also preceded the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850 with the deaths of hundreds of tribal people in the deceptive ‘death march’ to northern Minnesota.
Chief Buffalo, Chief Oshogo, along with other Clan Chiefs of the
Grand Council challenged the past treaty agreements and accused
the U.S. Government of carrying out a great deception towards the
Ojibwe in earlier treaties signed.
At age 93, Great Buffalo and several band chiefs were delegated to
begin the several months long journey to Washington, D.C., to meet
with President Millard Fillmore. When they finally met, along with the
words of the Grand Councils, they carried a Pa-wa-gon, or great pipe,
which was smoked with the President. Following the meeting, the
chiefs returned home with that pipe, now known as the “Buffalo Peace
Pipe” which became a symbol of our nation’s agreement, and today it is
preserved and protected by the Red Cliff Tribe.
President Fillmore rescinded the Indian Removal orders and agreed that
the Ojibwe would never be required to leave its homelands. The Treaty
of 1854 would forever change the Anishinaabe as well as other tribes.
With the establishment of homeland reservations, it marked the end
of federal efforts to remove tribes onto lands west of the Mississippi
River. The ‘gi-chi-b-waa-tig’ continues to follow these traditions and
agreements, preserving our traditional knowledge, wisdom and
sovereignty, and maintaining our cultural integrity for the benefit of
As the largest employer in Bayfield County, the Red Cliff Tribe is
a significant partner for the economic prosperity of the region in
sustainable economic and community development. Today, the
tribe operates a full range of governmental, cultural and recreational
opportunities, along with providing services and facilities for
health, elders, tribal fisheries, family and human services, police, fire,
conservation and EMS. The Legendary Waters Resort and Casino offers
a lakeside resort/hotel, conference center, casino and marina facility
providing a gateway to the Apostle Islands and waters of the