Episcopal Church Returns Land to the Ojibwe; Praise for Closing the Upper St. Anthony Lock

The Episcopal Church in Minnesota is giving its Cass Lake Episcopal Camp (CLEC) property to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Bishop Brian Prior announced this month.

In a December 7 email to church members, Prior acknowledged that the announcement would come as sad news to those who, like him, found camping ministry important to their spiritual development. However, he noted that the Episcopal Church had not used the camp for well over a decade and the property was in disrepair. The decision came after a lengthy review. He wrote:

The resurrection news, the Good News that Jesus calls all of us to, is that the property that CLEC was privileged to enjoy for a good long season is once again in the loving hands of those who first enjoyed this amazing piece of God’s creation.

As an aside, it’s worth nothing that Leech Lake has suffered as much as any reservation in the country from the effects of “checker boarding,”  the government policy of dividing tribal-held land into individual allotments to make it easier to sell. Cris Stainbrook of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation spoke at a Healing Minnesota Stories event in early 2015 and explained the process.

The Leech Lake Reservation is one of the worst examples of the effects of allotment of any reservation in the country — and I mean any. The Leech LakeBand and individual allotees own 4 percent of the reservation. In terms of economic development, Leech Lake is the poorest tribe in Minnesota.
May the camp land be a benefit to the Leech Lake community.

Praise for the Closing of the Upper St. Anthony Lock

The Circle Newspaper has a great article by Jon Lurie this month with a Native perspective on the closing of the Upper St. Anthony Lock in Minneapolis. The piece is titled: A History of Owamni Yomni: Lock Closures Signal Healing for Mississippi River.

It begins by noting that the Dakota name for the waterfall is Owamni Yomni, or whirlpool, a place revered for centuries for its tremendous spiritual power and inspiration.

The article traces the waterfall’s history, noting:

In the years that followed Hennepin’s visit, a series of white explorers, missionaries, business tycoons and politicians came through the area and – following Hennepin’s lead, renamed sacred sites to reflect their claims to the area and erase the memory of the Dakota’s special relationship to the land and water.

The Upper St. Anthony Lock opened in 1963. The article notes that Dakota spiritual leaders predicted its downfall at the time, warning that people should leave spiritual places alone. Towards the end, the article concludes:

By closing the Upper Saint Anthony Falls Lock, Congress has acted to return Owamni Yomni to function as it had for centuries, as a divide between the upper and lower Mississippi River’s unique natural systems. At least one important food supply to Minnesota’s Native population will now be protected from invasive carp: 90% of Minnesota’s wild rice grows north of Saint Anthony falls within the Mississippi watershed.

After three centuries of destruction, and the remaking the Dakota homelands in their own image, it appears efforts are underway by the non-Indian population to repair at least some of the damage.

Read the full article.

4 thoughts on “Episcopal Church Returns Land to the Ojibwe; Praise for Closing the Upper St. Anthony Lock

  1. I’m glad the Episcopal Church in Minnesota has decided to give the land that was Cass Lake Episcopal Camp back to the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe. My family and I have many very wonderful memories from summers we spent at Cass Lake Family Camps.
    However, I’m not sure how many people understood the history that gave the land to the Episcopal Church. First, European immigrants used violence, duplicity, and disease to dispossess the native peoples from their lands. Then, the US government broke every one of the treaties it signed with the native peoples. Worst of all, it enacted the 1887 Dawes Act that not only deprived tribes of much of the land they were promised under treaty, but it also limited native peoples to 160 acres of land for families and 80 acres for single males. To make matters worse they gave to the native peoples the right to sell their land to whomever they chose to sell it to. That resulted in the checkerboard character of many tribal lands, as Chris Stainbrook spoke of above.
    My own family story is related to this. After the Dawes Act the Nez Perce Indians of eastern Oregon were left with 143,00 acres of the 17 million they were given originally. That freed up over 16 million acres to give to settlers to encourage them to move west. My ancestors were so encouraged, moving first to Yreka, California, and finally to land just west of the Wallowa mountains and south of Pendleton. So, my family was able to rebuild after the devastation of the Civil War on land expropriated from the Nez Perce. I suspect the land on which the wonderful Cove Episcopal Camp operated by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon is also land originally given to the Nez Perce. In fact, I wonder how many of our diocesan camps are on land that was originally part of treaty lands.
    I hope the decision of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota will encourage other dioceses to examine the history of their camps’ land and, at least, use it to teach how European Christians and the US government displaced America’s native peoples from their land and the consequences that still behalf Native Americans to this day.


  2. I remember my time at this camp. It was wonderful. To equate that to the past that may have been dubious and is to do injustice to the great things this camp did. Typical bleeding heart attitude. Remember the past but appreciate the present. The above PC post is the problem with this generation.


  3. i remember going to CLEC back in ’99. my camp counselor was penny. i had sooo much fun. if anyone from the c/o ’99 went that yr and had either canp counselor penny or any others can u plz contact me on fb? ive been missing all of the friends and counselors i made there and would like to catch up. tysm!!!


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