In his comment, Chief Atleo was alluding to mining and energy industries that are expanding their operations in Canada. Like the furs of the fur trade, the metal and mineral sectors are viewed as a commodity that Atleo hopes will provide a sustainable economy for Canadian tribes.
However, Atleo’s reference to a “new fur trade” was a bit of a gaffe. The energy sector may certainly be a part of the new fur trade, but mining is not. Indeed, mining was part of the historical fur trade.
The historical record makes it clear that metal and mineral exploration was an integral part of the European excursion into North America. In 1604, Master Simon, a mining engineer with Samuel de Champlain, reported the discovery of silver and iron in Acadia. In 1643 a shipment of coal was reported to have been sent from Grand Lake, New Brunswick. In 1672 Nicolas Denys prepared a report on the coal resources of the Maritimes for Louis XIV.
Explorers and missionaries had a keen interest in copper. In 1669, Fr. Claude D’Ablon, a Jesuit missionary, collected information on copper mining in the Lake Superior region. He was the first to write about Lake Superior copper deposits. D’Ablon’s reports led to efforts to locate the mines and obtain specimens.
Charles de Beauharnois, governor of New France, and Gilles Hocquart, his attendant, wrote of their copper findings. In a letter to the French Minister, dated October 25, 1729: “We will neglect no steps, Monsignor, to procure information as to the quality and quantity of the ore in the mine, And to that end, Beauharnois will send orders next spring to the officer commanding at the point of Chagoüamigon to instruct some voyageurs who may pass by that spot to bring as much ore as they can from the mine with a detailed report on its situation and extent.”
Beauharnois and Hocquart noted the difficulty transporting ore specimens: “…consider the difficulties that would be encountered in conveying five thousand livres weight of the ore in bark canoes that would inevitably be wrecked if struck by a squall on that lake while approaching shore--as ore cannot be landed as easily as packages of furs.”
In 1736, Beauharnois and Hocquart sent another letter to the French Minister: “Monsignor--we have the honor to inform you that Monsieur De la Ronde who was instructed to work the copper mines on Lake Superior, came down from there in the month of August to report on his discoveries, and brought with him about 500 pounds of ore taken from two large masses of copper, one of which is at the Tonnaganne River, and the other on the Shore of Lake Superior near the Piouabic River (Iron River, in northern Michigan),”
In 1737, Beauharnois wrote: “If the Tonnagane mine can be worked, the peace just concluded between, the Cristinaux and the Sauteur of La Pointe is of the greatest advantage as regards the peaceful exploitation of the mines.”
A year later, the French sent out an exploratory team composed of a group of voyagers and two experienced miners to survey several copper deposit sites along Lake Superior.
The earliest mining attempt occurred in 1701. Pierre-Charles Le Sueur mined 30,000 pounds of what he thought was copper ore from the banks of what are now the Blue Earth and Le Sueur rivers near their junction, a few miles southwest of present-day Mankato. He sent 4,000 pounds of this material to France. Le Sueur’s finding proved to be worthless as a source of copper or any metallic product.
The historical records show that Europeans had more than a passing interest in metals and minerals, and that the fur trade was not only about furs but also about exploring and surveying tribal lands for metals and minerals. In Anishinaabe Akiing, the land of the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe, it was about the copper. What the early French explorations did was to essentially map out potential areas where copper deposits could be found. Those areas would later be exploited for their resources.
With the establishment of the U.S., Euro-Americans turned their attention to the potential wealth underlying tribal lands. Treaties became the bargaining tool that the government applied in gaining access to tribal land.
In the Treaty with the Chippewa, negotiated at Fond du Lac in 1826. Article 3 states: ”The Chippewa tribe grant to the government of the United States the right to search for, and carry away, any metals or minerals from any part of their country. But this grant is not to affect the title of the land, nor the existing jurisdiction over it.”
This treaty, the first Ojibwe-Anishinaabe treaty council held in Minnesota, covered a vast expanse of Anishinaabe Akiing beginning in Minnesota, through Wisconsin, and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Article 3 of the treaty provided for metal and mineral exploration and mining within Ojbwe-Anishinaabe lands. Lewis Cass, the chief negotiator, said that the Great Father wanted “to take such copper as he may find.”
Given the statement by Cass, it’s doubtful that the Euro-Americans were not aware of the copper deposits that the French had explored and documented in their findings and reports beginning nearly two hundred years before the 1826 treaty. Indeed, the remark by Cass indicates the U.S. knew about the copper deposits but, like the French, they didn’t quite know where many of those the deposits were located.
It had long been assumed by the French that the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe reluctance was due to superstitious taboos about copper and that revealing the locations of mines would lead to calamity.
Beauharnois and Hocquart, in 1729, noted: “Hitherto it had been thought that these mines were found only in one or two Islands; but, since we have made more exact inquiries on the subject, we have learned from the savages some secrets, which they did not wish to reveal.
“The savages, timid and superstitious as they all are, have never dared to go there since that time, for fear of dying there, believing that there are certain spirits who kill those who approach them.
“All the savages assert that copper is to be found at a great many places on Lake Superior; from time to time they have brought pieces which they have given to Frenchmen and in particular…a Jesuit Missionary at Michilimakinac…the savages have told many people, the metal exists in abundance, and in many places.”
Zhingaabewasin (Image Stone), an ogimaa from Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie) who signed the 1826 treaty, was obviously aware of the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe history of reluctantly sharing information with Europeans. To address this situation, Zhingaabewasin said:
“My friends, our fathers have come here to embrace their children. Listen to what they have to say. It will be good for you. If you have any copper on your lands, I advise you to sell it. It is of no advantage to us. They can convert it into articles for our use. If any one of you has any knowledge on this subject, I ask you to bring it to light.”
There is nothing in the historical record that indicates that other Ojibwe-Anishinaabe ogimaag heeded Zhingaabewasin’s advice.
The French view would inform the works of others writing on the history of Lake Superior copper, a view that continued into the 1980s and 90s. Dr. Susan R. Martin, Industrial History and Archaeology Program, Michigan Technological University, wrote a seminal article to address the myths and fantasies regarding the history of Lake Superior copper.
In “Dispelling some Myths about the Old Copper Culture” (1995), Dr. Martin, writes: “Fortunately there is an extensive body of scholarship about Ojibwa myth and world view related to copper…The fact is, the manitous and their powers according to Ojibwa myth are seen as an extension of the human social world. Humans and not-so-humans strive to influence each other through ritual exchange in which copper was one medium among many. Power was also believed to reside in copper itself, according to Ojibwa myth. Copper was considered by some to contain powerful medicine, a great medium for ritual exchange, that brought wealth, health and well-being. This is probably why it was worn by and buried with children. In addition, contact-era Ojibwa people had every reason to dissemble about the locations of copper deposits and their significance. After all, powerful strangers were trying to gain access to Ojibwa lands, primarily to extract culturally-valued resources. Why aid and abet this attempted seizure by revealing everything about copper? There is nothing inconsistent about the myths regarding copper and native use of it; in fact copper use is completely consistent with the Ojibwa world view and with the archaeological record of the basin.”
Dr. Martin’s view is more in line with Ojibwe-Anishinaabe cultural norms and traditions than anything previously written about Lake Superior copper. Although the French and Euro-Americans considered the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe as primitive and superstitious, the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe of the Pre-Invasion period had every reason to protect a “culturally-valued resource.”
With the signing of the Treaty of 1826, the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe gave up their rights to copper. Less than fifteen years later, Euro-Americans began their encroachment on copper deposits that were largely centered on the Upper Peninsula.
In 1839, Douglass Houghton, Michigan's first state geologist, spent many weeks in the field each season with his assistants, mapping and evaluating Michigan's natural resources. His fourth annual report, based on field work done in 1840, appeared February 1, 1841. It helped trigger the first great mining boom of American history, and earned him the title of "father of copper mining in the United States."
In 1843, the Lake Superior Mining Co. opened the first copper in Michigan. Isle Royale Mine opened the first mine on Minong (Isle Royale) in 1852. From the mid-1840s to the late 1870s, there were one-hundred and eleven copper mines in the Upper Peninsula and twenty-eight on Minong (Isle Royale).
History has shown that copper was never a commodity to be bartered between indigenous tribes and French and Euro-Americans. The Treaty of 1826 took away any notion of commodity. But the historical record shows that copper was part and parcel of the historical fur trade. Like the virgin timber forests that were felled by the timber barons, copper was a resource to be plundered from the earth and enrich the mining barons.
Today, the mining barons once again seek to encroach upon our lands. They come under new names – PolyMet, Twin Metals, Franconia, Kennecott (Rio Tinto), Gogebec. In their quest for miskwaabikoon (copper), their efforts will severely impact of our ecosystem in a destructive manner. Therefore, it is imperative that we not work with them, but rather oppose the potential ecocide of our environment. It is for the Seventh Generation that we need to protect our wetlands, forests, waterfowl, wildlife and our manoomin.
Mii sa go