Northern Minnesota Native American tribes were often known by a variety of names, including Chippewa, Anishinaabe and Ojibwe. The Bois Forte band of Objiwe made their way to northern Minnesota area from the east coast, following the Saint Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and many inland rivers. Their first contact with settlers came in the 1700’s, when French voyageurs traveled to the area in search of furs. Today, Ojibwe culture can be experienced while visiting the Bois Forte Heritage Center and Cultural Museum on the grounds of the Fortune Bay Casino, a short 30 miles south of Ely.
Many Native American traditions, such as ricing, are still practiced in the area today. Zizania aquatica, commonly known as wild rice, is harvested by canoeing into a stand of plants, bending the ripe grain heads with wooden sticks (called knockers) and gently tapping the mature seeds so they fall into the canoe. Native American influence is also found in the names of many area lakes and rivers such as the Kawishiwi, which in Ojibwe language means “river full of beaver or muskrat houses”.
The Bois Forte now operate the Fortune Bay Casino near Tower, MN