Overlooking Boundary Waters Lake

The Boundary Waters
is Anishinaabe Land

An important part of learning about and advocating for the Boundary Waters is hearing Indigenous stories, learning about the history of forced removal of Indigenous people, treaties made and broken, formation of reservations, original Anishinaabe place names, and understanding the central roles Tribes play as advocates and as Sovereign Nations in protecting this landscape.

It’s our responsibility to learn more, and take action to support indigenous people and communities.

11 Tribes
Federally recognized in Minnesota
Million acres in the 1854 Treaty area
of sacred Native American pictographs within the BWCA
Tree close up of bark

Homeland of the Anishinaabe People

People have lived in the region we now call the Boundary Waters for countless generations and have a deep relationship to these lands and waters. Anishinaabe people (also known in this region as Chippewa or Ojibwe) continue to harvest wild rice in the Boundary Waters region and maintain treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. As sovereign nations, tribes play an important role in protecting the Boundary Waters.

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The historic and present quest to steward, protect, and enjoy the Boundary Waters starts with and includes Anishinaabe people. Too often, the “story” of the Boundary Waters Wilderness is told starting only a few hundred years ago with the French Voyageurs, or the protection of the area by the U.S. Government in the early 1900s. Describing the Wilderness as “untouched” can feel like erasing the reality that people called this area home long before European colonization and Wilderness designation.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is committed to recognizing and lifting up Native voices, stories, and opinions. 

Native Lands Map Screenshot

The Original Wilderness Protectors 

The region today called Minnesota (In the Dakota language, Mne Sota means “sky-tinted water”) is the home of many Indigenous people, including the Anishinaabe, Cree, Assiniboine, Algonquin, Dakota, Metis, and others.

See who’s native land you are on

Photo Credit: Native Land Digital


1854 Treaty Authority Map

Working Together

Basswood Lake, located in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park and along the international border, is an ancestral homeland of the Lac La Croix First Nation and a sacred place for Anishinaabe. The Lac La Croix and Couchiching First Nations traditional lands and waters in Canada are downstream from the Boundary Waters. 

Today on the east side of the Boundary Waters lies the Grand Portage Indian Reservation which contains Grand Portage National Monument. To the west of the Wilderness are the three sections of the Bois Forte Reservation.

Chaz Interview Image

Bands Working Together

Anishinaabe people have deeply traditional and cultural relationships with these lands and waters and have called for the protection of this important landscape. 

(Tribes are involved in the work to protect the Boundary Waters from copper mining. In 2016, three bands of Minnesota Chippewa (Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and White Earth) and one Canadian First Nation (Lac La Croix) requested that the U.S. Federal Government ban sulfide-ore copper mining on federal public lands on the U.S. side of the Rainy River Drainage Basin. In 2020, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (consisting of 6 Minnesota Chippewa Bands) stated its support for legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Betty McCollum that would ban sulfide-ore copper mining on federal lands in the Rainy River Drainage Basin, part of 1854 Ceded Territory.)

Minnesota Tribal cultural and historical resources:

Wild Rice Map

The Right to Hunt and Fish

The 1854 Treaty Authority is an inter-tribal natural resource management organization that protects and implements the off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering rights for the Grand Portage and Bois Forte bands in the lands ceded to the United States government under the Treaty of La Pointe, 1854.

Explore the Interactive Ceded Terrirory Map