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Study reveals little-known history of Native Americans around Duluth

Duluth City Hall and the St. Louis County Courthouse stand on land given to Ojibwe leader Chief Buffalo in an 1854 treaty, historian Bruce White recounted this week -- and he said that's a part of the city's history more residents should be aware of.

Duluth City Hall and the St. Louis County Courthouse stand on land given to Ojibwe leader Chief Buffalo in an 1854 treaty, historian Bruce White recounted this week - and he said that's a part of the city's history more residents should be aware of.

A perceived lack of knowledge about the history of Native Americans in Duluth is something the Duluth Indigenous Commission - along with White, of Turnstone Historical Research in St. Paul, and archaeologists from Two Pines Resource Group - hopes to remedy through the findings of a yearslong study that will be presented Saturday.

White began working with the commission after it received two grants - one for planning, one for the project - from the Minnesota Historical Society in 2012 and 2013, respectively. White said that when he spoke with the commission, members expressed concerns about the lack of awareness of Native American contributions to the city.

"When I came and met people, the first thing that they said was, they felt as though Native or indigenous people in Duluth were invisible," he said. "They felt as though within the community in Duluth ... there's a sense that they don't even count."

The study focused on sites that were and are important to Duluth's indigenous communities, as well as indigenous people who had an impact on the city.

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Europeans arrived in Duluth in the 1600s, and French soldier Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, attempted to secure trapping rights in the area that would become the city. Though the French are said to have "discovered" Duluth, White said the credit is misplaced.

"When the Frenchman Sieur du Lhut came here - you know he's credited with being a kind of discoverer - there were indigenous people here to greet him," White said. "Yet he's the one whose name was applied to the city, and there's a statue of him up at UMD. ...

"The main contribution (of Native Americans) is that this is their place. This is the indigenous place and this is where they lived for generations."

White said he did not want to reveal specific locations in the city that are important to indigenous people, so as not to draw attention to sites that could be vulnerable. But he suggested the city and the commission find a way to make information about indigenous contributions more easily accessible.

Some of White's suggestions include putting up plaques and statues at important sites, or offering historic tours or developing a smartphone app that would tell users information about sites with significance to the Native American community - essentially, anything to grab people's attention.

"The problem I think that we were dealing with is: How do we get over this lack of interest or this lack of knowledge? How do we get people to be interested in this aspect of the history of Duluth?" White said.

Chief Buffalo was an important figure in the region, both to the Ojibwe people and to the U.S. government. Busts of Chief Buffalo are displayed in the U.S. Capitol today, an honor White thinks Duluth should replicate.

Based on his research, White said he also believes the significance of Canal Park to indigenous people should be emphasized alongside the area's well-known maritime history. According to White, the ship canal actually runs through an area that used to be a portage used by Native Americans.

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White said he hopes that, once the information from the study is presented to the community, the learning will continue.

"I think whenever you do a project like this, sometimes you end up feeling like, 'Gosh, I could just keep working on this, there's so much more,' " he said.

If you go

What: Duluth Indigenous Commission meeting presenting the results of a study on the indigenous history of Duluth

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Trepanier Hall, 212 W Second St., Duluth

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