Making History

New Riverfront Signage Makes History by Sharing Accurate History

Gathered around the table last year by Holly Hansen of the City of Cloquet were tribal historians, language experts, scientists, artists, city historians, and officials.  What began as a run of the mill discussion of logging and paper mills quickly shifted as the leadership from Fond du Lac flipped the table over to show what has always been there. History is so often taught from the perspective of colonialism as if logging and homesteading were the beginning of time.

Why signs? Posted signage is a powerful educational tool. Whether its ready by tourists or parents watching kids play at the park, accurate history can change perspectives, welcome people home, and highlight invisible narratives.  

Anytime we are writing history we are Making History. The worship of the written word is so strong it will override thousands of years of oral history. We all felt the opportunity and the responsibility to get this right.  And let me tell you, the narrative changed. 

One such conversation was around the sign talking about "work" and it had originally meant to talk about paper mills. Tribal members pushed back on many parts of this process as our people have been "working" along this river, on this land, For Ever.  The idea that "work" is a dollar exchange that began after colonization is faulty and fundamentally inaccurate. Most of us cannot imagine the hard work and the brilliance it takes, and took, to thrive in this environment without leaving a trace. 

Every piece of this process required significant push and pull and navigation from the amazing 106 group and the openness of the City of Cloquet led by Holly Hansen and the leadership of Fond du Lac both in official capacities such as the language program and in Heart Berry's role which began as art and became historical committee. The reality is...if we are not at the table... our story doesn't get told. And our story isn't a Version, our story is the reality. We are working to move beyond this idea of different narratives to one that is about how Indigenous history is real history and we are well versed and aware of colonial history.

"The workshop was intense, many frustrations were shared which were at times difficult to process, but we as a group held the space making it safe to share and listen and move forward to create something together, as a team,” shared Holly Hansen Community Development Director for the City of Cloquet.  “I think the cultural signs landed in a space of inclusion, they are bilingual from shared perspectives,” said Hansen."

"When Native people are at the table we bring our perspective which is much broader and older than the short 160 years since logging hit our forests. This was a difficult but incredible process. We are really proud of this project. " Giizh says of this innovative and thoughtful collaboration between the Fond du Lac Nation, City of Cloquet, and community.

All came together to build historically accurate signage across Cloquet's Dunlap Island.  If you're interested in seeing these in person, the series of six signs is spread across a walking path in this beautiful park along the St Louis River. This project was made possible by the Blandin Foundation, 106 Group, City of Cloquet, the Fond du Lac Nation, and their amazing group of community committee members.

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