Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post

Vertical Tabs

Introduction

Trace the journey of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and their settlement in Northern Minnesota, learn about their fate during a period of treaties made and broken, and follow their story up to the present day. Exhibits, including video and computer interactives, listening stations and objects, reveal information about Ojibwe life today, from how dance traditions are carried on to members' interests in music to sovereignty issues.

The museum's spacious crafts room serves as a demonstration area for traditional cooking, birch-bark basketry and beadwork. Adjacent to the museum, a restored trading post retains its 1930s appearance. 

Background

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.

History of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

The Lake Mille Lacs region of Minnesota has been the home of both the Dakota and the Ojibwe. The Dakota inhabited the region from prehistoric times until the 1740s. After a battle with the Ojibwe at Cormorant Point, Lake Mille Lacs, the Dakota were forced to relocate to southern and western territory. Archaeological evidence shows that prehistoric Indian people occupied the site as early as 3,000 B.C. Before 1,000 B.C., Indians were making copper tools.

The first known European contact occurred 1n 1679 when Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth explored the region. He traded with the Dakota at their thriving community located at Mille Lacs Lake and claimed the land for France. At that time the Ojibwe lived along the shores of Lake Superior, to the northeast of the Dakota. Du Luth visited the region again in 1680 to rescue Father Hennepin, who together with two other explorers, had been captured by the Dakota and held at Mille Lacs. By the early 1700s, Ojibwe hunters moved west in search of new fur-trapping territory. They fought intermittently with the Dakota and eventually gained control of the Mille Lacs Lake region in 1745.

For the next 110 years they lived in the region hunting and fishing, maple-sugaring and gathering wild rice. The U.S. government made treaties with the Ojibwe in 1854 and 1855. At that time, much of the Ojibwe land in northern Minnesota was ceded to the United States. The Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe continued to live in the region on a reservation granted to them by the U.S. government. This reservation was one of nine granted to the Ojibwe in 1855. The Mille Lacs Band came under pressure to give up its reservation and move to the White Earth reservation but resisted and were allowed to stay at Lake Mille Lacs. Much of the land originally granted to them for their reservation was taken away. Today the reservation includes about 3,500 acres.

Timeline

1884 D.H. Robbins homesteads near what is now the Mille Lacs Indian Museum site and builds the first frame house on Lake Mille Lacs.

1885 Robbins operates a sawmill milling timber cut from reservation land

1892 Robbins begins farming on 80 acres of clear-cut land.

1900 Robbins operates a trading post out of his residence.

1916 Harry and Jeannette Ayer purchase land from Robbins on Whitefish Lake near Lake Mille Lacs.

1918 Robbins sells his property and buildings to the U.S. government. Ayer applies to the White Earth Indian Agency for a traders license and requests to operate the store on the Robbins property.

1920 Ayer begins renting cabins to hunters and visitors, and later buys 63 acres of lakeshore.

1925 The U.S. government forces Ayer to vacate the government-owned buildings and the Robbins store and residence. Ayer begins building a new trading post and store.

1930 The site now contains 24 cabins, an icehouse and fish-cleaning shed, and gas pumps.

1937 The Ayers' resort business is in full swing with cabins and boats, a dining hall, boat docks, boat factory, maple sugar syrup refinery, gas station, trading post and store.

1939 Ayer sells the boat factory to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

1959 Ayer donates his collection of Indian artifacts - mainly Ojibwe craft and tool items, the buildings and land to the Minnesota Historical Society.

1960 The Society opens an exhibit of artifacts to the public.

1964 Ayer works with the Society to add the "Four Seasons" exhibit room to the museum.

1966 Jeannette and Harry Ayer die.

1969 Four Seasons exhibit opens.

1996 New Mille Lacs Indian Museum opens to the public.

Images

Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Images

Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Images

Mille Lacs Indian Museum

Mille Lacs Indian Museum

Download high-res image (1.26 MB)

Mille Lacs Indian Museum Trading Post

Mille Lacs Indian Museum Trading Post

Download high-res image (1.84 MB)

Mille Lacs Trading Post, 1950

Mille Lacs Trading Post, 1950

Download high-res image (693.45 KB)
News Releases

August 12, 2015 New Art Exhibit ‘On Home Ground’ at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
November 12, 2014 Create a Craft to Share or Treasure in December at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
October 15, 2014 Ojibwe Shoulder Bag Kids Craft and Porcupine Quill Jewelry Workshop for Adults in November at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
September 17, 2014 Cornhusk Doll Craft and Sweetgrass Basket Workshop for Kids and Adults this October at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
August 20, 2014 UPDATE: Wild Rice Demos, Arts and Craft Workshops and Free Admission at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post this September
July 16, 2014 Explore Art, Crafts and History at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in August
June 11, 2014 Get Crafty with Kids Beading and Porcupine Quill Workshops in July at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
May 14, 2014 New Program at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Highlights History of Ojibwe in Minnesota
April 2, 2014 Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Offers Crafts for Kids and Adults, Annual Memorial Day Powwow in May
March 12, 2014 Weave Traditional Sweetgrass Baskets in Two-Day Workshop, Make a Dream Catcher at Kids Crafts Drop-In Program in April
February 12, 2014 Mille Lacs Indian Museum Offers Craft Workshops and Maple Sap Harvest Demonstration in March
December 18, 2013 Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Hosts Crafts for Kids and Adults in January and February
November 13, 2013 Cornhusk Dolls and Birch Bark Ornaments at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in December
October 16, 2013 Beading 101, Dream Catcher Crafts and Story Time at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in November
July 17, 2013 Hands On Crafts for Kids and Adults, Plus a Birthday Cake at Mille Lacs Indian Museum in August
June 12, 2013 July Workshops at Mille Lacs Indian Museum Include Applique Beading, Making Cornhusk Dolls
May 15, 2013 Dream Catcher Kids Craft and Birch Bark Harvest Workshop at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in June
May 8, 2013 Dancing on the 'Powwow Trail' Focus of New Photography Exhibit at Mille Lacs Indian Museum, May 15 - Aug. 18
April 17, 2013 American Indian Art Explored through Photography, Craftwork and Dance this May at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
April 10, 2013 May Crafts for Children and Adults at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
March 13, 2013 Beading Crafts for Kids and A Basket Making Workshop for Adults at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
February 6, 2013 March Events for Everyone at Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post Images
B-Roll Video