Arts and Culture

A Park Rapids Treaty Rights and Anishinaabe Culture Museum will open this summer

People and horses standing in a river.
Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke gathers with demonstrators in the Shell River during a protest at an Enbridge Line 3 easement in Menahga, Minn., July 15. LaDuke is part of a project to open a treaty rights and Anishinaabe culture museum.
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2021

Updated: 9:50 a.m.

Activist Winona LaDuke is leading a team to open a treaty rights and Anishinaabe culture museum this summer in a former Carnegie Library building. The library was most recently occupied by Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline and energy corporation, whose Line 3 pipeline project LaDuke opposed.

“We deserved a place where we could be able to find information about Northern Minnesota and Native people and have it from our voice, instead of third person, past tense, because treaty rights are not just historic, they're present,” LaDuke says. “We’re trying to figure out how to best bring the story of this land and the story of Anishinaabe history forward.”  

The new institution will be called Giiwedinong: The Museum and Cultural Center of the North. LaDuke says “giiwedinong” (pronounced gee-WADE-eh-nong) means “in the north” and “homecoming” in Ojibwe.

LaDuke says her nonprofit, Honor the Earth, helped fundraise to purchase the building for Akiing, a community development organization. LaDuke is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabe of the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is on the board of Akiing, which took ownership of the downtown Park Rapids building Nov. 1.

The site is particularly important, LaDuke explains. She grew up going to a Carnegie library in Southern Oregon.  

“I was a dark kid in a small town, and I went to the library all the time,” says LaDuke, who explains that Andrew Carnegie established more than 1,600 libraries across the U.S. “My breadth of knowledge, intellect, is in part from my life at the Carnegie library. I wanted to make something that was that cool again.” 

LaDuke was part of the protest movement that fought to stop Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline replacement project. The completed pipeline began pumping oil in October 2021. 

“Enbridge owned the building, and that really hurt my feelings. That was really not about enlightenment. That was more about censorship and oppression,” LaDuke says. 

In a press release, LaDuke called acquiring the library “probably the ultimate ironic Land Back purchase in North America, with more than a little poetic justice.” 

On March 16, LaDuke testified at the capitol in support of proposed legislation — Senate File 1916 and House File 2091 — that would provide about $920,000 in funds to the museum to upgrade the building and develop collections, curriculum and public programming. 

Sen. Mary Kunesh authored the senate bill.  

“There is nothing quite like it up in greater Minnesota,” Kunesh says of the museum. She is a descendent of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “This is an incredible opportunity to bring the authentic voice of Anishinaabe relatives to the public. There’s not been one like this before.” 

Kunesh says Sen. Foung Hawj, who is the chair of the Environment, Climate and Legacy committee, could decide as early as next week to include the bill in the Omnibus bill. 

Building in the snow
The former Carnegie Museum, which will opening this summer as the Giiwedinong: The Library and Cultural Center of the North in in Park Rapids, Minn.
Frank Smoot

Regardless of if the funding is approved, LaDuke says the museum will open this summer, as early as June.  She has already hired Lydia Four Horns as a design consultant and Frank Smoot as a museum developer. Smoot, who is also the director of the Chippewa Area History Center, says the role with Giiwedinong is on his life’s bucket list. 

“I don't think old white guys should be telling Indigenous history. I think we've done that for 400 years, and it hasn't worked out all that well,” Smoot says. “But there is some help I could give them to be part of this launch team.” 

He adds, “I know how to get a place open in a short time with a fairly modest budget and a lot of involvement from other people.”

LaDuke and Smoot say the museum will focus on water protectors, or those who try to protect water systems. This term rose to prominence with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, as well as the activism against Enbridge’s proposed Line 3. Giiwedinong will also focus on treaty rights, especially the 1855 Treaty with the Ojibwe. The museum is located in the territory outlined by this treaty. 

“A lot of people fundamentally misunderstand treaty rights,” Smoot says. “Also, people misunderstand what it means to be water protectors, and what it means to be Earth protectors.” 

Smoot says the first exhibitions will feature photos, documents, artwork and oral histories to help people “understand these big ideas of how northern Minnesota got formed, and its territory controls, and also how America got formed.” 

LaDuke says the museum’s main floor will be for the general public while the downstairs area will be a repository for scholars. Smoot says one of the reasons for the museum is to have a central place for objects and documents that are currently scattered among individuals and organizations. 

Smoot, who has been working in museums and historical centers for decades, says Giiwedinong will represent a shift in the field, from what he calls a “desperately neutral” position to one of advocacy. 

“The idea that a museum can advocate for a particular understanding represents some of the most current thinking,” Smoot says. “We want to bias ourselves as a society towards sustaining the Earth in the best way that we can for future generations. So, it's incumbent upon museums because they're a trusted source of information to talk about how we can do that.” 

Correction: A previous version misidentified the organization LaDuke is on the board of. The above version has been updated.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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