The Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Onamia, Minn., represents years of planning and is the most significant museum in the country to focus on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's history and contemporary life. The impressive structure is located in the heart of a community where the Band has lived for centuries.
Visitors can explore the culture of the Band through interactive exhibits, craft demonstrations and special programs at the 22,810-square-foot museum. The building's spacious crafts room serves as a demonstration area for traditional cooking, birch-bark basketry and beadwork. It also incorporates a classroom and community meeting space. In the adjacent trading post visitors will find American Indian gifts from Mille Lacs artisans and their counterparts around the country.
The Society, in close contact with the Band, has operated a museum on the site for more than 30 years. After decades of use, the original cinder block building was closed in 1992 so the new museum could take its place. It opened on May 18, 1996.
The building uses traditional northwoods materials. Bentz, Thompson and Rietow Architects worked on the project with designer Thomas Hodne and in collaboration with the Mille Lacs Band Advisory Committee. They designed the building to reflect its environment. An arching window wall reflects the shoreline of Lake Mille Lacs. Fashioned in cedar, the building exterior is highlighted with a copper dome, corrugated copper columns and an inset tile band designed by Mille Lacs elder Batiste Sam, based on a beaded belt designed for the museum.
Inside, exhibits take the story of the Band from their journey to settle in Northern Minnesota, through a period of treaties made and broken, and up to the present. Text will incorporate Ojibwe and English to emphasize the continuing importance of language in contemporary Ojibwe culture.
The centerpiece is the dramatic "Four Seasons Room" from the original museum - life-size dioramas depict early Ojibwe lifestyles. The dioramas were made in 1964 and show the importance of traditional seasonal activities, from the spring maple syrup camp, to the fishing and berry gathering of the summer months, to fall wild ricing, to winter hunting and trapping.
Exhibits also include "Our Living Culture," showing an array of contemporary powwow outfits and related activities; "Making a Living," documenting the many ways Ojibwe people have endured economically through the past century; and "Nation Within a Nation," exploring how the people of Mille Lacs have asserted the rights of sovereignty and self-governance.
The exhibits showcase objects from the Ayer Collection, a collection of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe crafts. A changing display highlights objects from the 2,200-piece collection, including bandolier bags, moccasins and birch-bark baskets. The objects were collected by Harry and Jeanette Ayer, who ran a fishing resort and trading post on the site from 1918 to 1958.
The museum includes a spacious crafts room which serves as a training and demonstration area for beadwork, birch-bark basketry, basswood dyeing, embroidery and traditional cooking. The crafts room connects to an outdoor program area featuring demonstrations of wild ricing, maple sugar processing, traditional dancing, and tipi and canoe building.
The Ayer Collection
Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer donated their large collection of Ojibwa arts and crafts to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1959. For many years, the Ayers acquired items made by members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe for their personal collection and for resale at their trading post on the shores of Lake Mille Lacs. The collection contains many excellent examples of traditional Ojibwe objects such as bandolier bags, moccasins, belts and bands.
The objects from the Ayer Ojibwe Collection currently housed at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post represent a sample of the broad spectrum of items that are available and accessible via PALS, the Society's online catalog atwww.mnhs.org/library/search/museum/ayer.html. Each description contains a link to an image of the object.
The ceremonial category includes objects associated with a number of American Indian activities that may or may not have other associations as well. In discussions with the Society's Indian Advisory Committee and through collections viewings by spiritual and sacred leaders, curatorial staff have identified object types or categories that may be sacred or sensitive. These objects are not listed in the Society's public catalog, and physical access to them is restricted.