On Friday, August 17 the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Water Resources Program in Minnesota invited tribal members to participate in the Appeasement Ceremonies for Lake Access Stabilization and Mud River Stream Restoration Projects.
The ceremonies were held for lake access stabilization, erosion control and stream restoration work. The appeasement rituals were led by spiritual leader Larry Stillday, who said he was appeasing ancestral spirits because of the disturbances to the earth and water, two of the four elements. “We are asking for forgiveness, we are giving an apology or appeasement for the disturbances,” he said.
Those participating moved from east to west, according to custom, starting at Blackduck River Lake access, then to the cut-off, then proceeded to the Fisheries, Mud River, McKenzie, and concluded at Hallet Landing near Little Rock.
Lake access work involves storm water control and stabilization of the access roads and boat ramps to reduce the amount of run-off entering Lower Red Lake. Exposed soil and erosion of lake access roads and ramps contribute to phosphorus and sediment loading of Red Lake. Stabilizing these lake accesses will promote better water quality, and provide clean habitat for fish in Red Lake.
At Hallet Landing this writer joined Jenilynn Bohm, Red Lake DNR non-point Source Pollution Specialist Stillday, Red Lake Fisheries Manager Bill May and others for the final ceremony of the day.
At Hallet, for example, when the access was built pottery shards were found during the ground disturbance. “There may have been something here related to settlement,” said Bohm. Some shards found were 2,000 years old according to Bohm.
The ceremony conducted by Stillday included the planting of an oak post off to the side of the landing, just a bit out of site and to the east. The purpose is to create energy according to Stillday. The top of the post was debarked and painted red.
The oak log planted at Hallet Landing symbolizes (or is) a “medicine tree.” The red paint where the ribbon was tied is called the “bloodline.” The ribbon has a tobacco pouch attached, which is an appeasement offering. The bloodline symbolizes the reconnect or appeasing of the ancestral spirits as well as the earth (land) and water.
The spirit dish (containing food) made of birch bark, and hidden behind a large rock in the lake symbolizes the interconnectedness of earth and water and all the elements, as well as people, plants, and all living things.
After the planting, a red ribbon was tied to the post where the paint met the bark. After further prayer, now at the lake, a spirit dish was placed in the water—hidden behind a most convenient rock.
The disturbance at Hallet Landing included a road as well as the landing.
“Our ancestors, of course, built their communities near water for all that it offered including transportation,” Stillday said. “There could be burials near the water because dams have made the lake larger expanding the shoreline, so graves that appear to be near or on the shore probably were not in times gone by—because of erosion possibilities—although then as now they would be near communities.”
The McKenzie Site
At the McKenzie site, there was a burial mound. Eight years ago it was dug into without knowledge of its importance during grading. Being close to the lake, the mound started eroding into the lake. As a result human remains were found. Police took the remains suspecting it to be a homicide, but found that the remains were much older. Some then wanted to carbon date the remains, but Spiritual Elder Anna Gibbs was against it. Gibbs took charge and reburied the remains in an unknown place.
The erosion still occurring, Stillday has instructed the DNR to reinforce the mound, but not to mark it for fear of curiosity seekers.
The Fisheries and Blackduck River Lake Access
The reason the fisheries were included in the appeasement ceremonies is because of a cement slab put into the lake back in he 30s. Something similar happened at the site at Blackduck River.
Land going into or mixing with water is not natural. Docks and slabs are artificial or man-made things. Things that belong to the water belong to the water and earth things to the earth. Cement and bituminous slabs into the lake are not part of the water but part of the land or the earth. At Blackduck the slab will be taken from the lake and be replaced by blacktop but only to the edge, not into the water.
“One severs the connection of earth and water by connecting them,” Stillday said.