Monika Lawrence's Portfolio
Red Lake, Red Lake Nation, Minnesota, treaty rights

Access. Since the Ojibwe have arrived in the region, Miskwaagamiiwi-Zaagaiganing, the Red Lake, has provided them with an abundance of fish for subsistence year-round: fresh, smoked, or dried. Once the lake was at the heart of the extensive tribal lands. Towering pine forests provided wood, hunting ground, berries, and medicinal plants. Large peatlands to the north and east filter the water entering the Upper and Lower Red lake, so do the wetlands to the south. Tribal leaders have understood for a long time how vital a healthy environment around the lake is for sustaining their way of life. They resisted the draining of the peatlands for agriculture and the mining of peat for fuel. The biggest threat to the land and lake however was the loss of 90 percent of the tribal land through several land cessions to the US government between 1863 and 1902. While the land cessions aimed at removing Indians from their ancestral lands to make space for European settlers and the logging industry, the US government also intended to destroy their traditional relationship to the land through allotments with the Dawson Act from 1883. This way it was easier to remove individual families from the land than entire communities. The Red Lake tribe however, resisted allotment and kept what is now called the diminished reservation intact. This came at a price: against all efforts the tribe lost control over the eastern part of Upper Red Lake and the surrounding land in the cession of 1892. The logging, transport and tourism industries and white settlers quickly took over the territory. Today resorts and cabins line the shore of eastern Upper Red Lake. The big waterbody was the only big walleye producing lake left in Minnesota still free of invasive species. In 2019 though, Zebra mussel larvae were found in the non-reservation part of Upper Red Lake. While a reproducing population of the invasive species has not been confirmed yet, there is an imminent threat to the lake when boats, moved from other lakes, were not properly examined for the intrusive hitchhikers. Zebra mussels not only crowd out native mussels that filter the water, they also filter out massive amounts of algae, which is the food that drives the walleye population of the lake. Not only is the sensitive ecosystem of the lake at stake but also the tribe’s economy, and even the off-reservation tourism industry on the lake. In March 2023, the Red Lake Nation announced to discuss with the United States Secretary of the Interior the restoration of the reservation boundaries to fully include Upper Red Lake.

bison, Red Lake Nation, Minnesota

Return of the giants. Millions of bison roamed the open prairie landscapes of the upper Midwest. Within only a few decades were almost entirely wiped out by ….. with the sole intention of removing a critical food, cultural and spiritual source essential for the survival of native Americans. At the same time, the Indians were forced to cede most of their ancestral lands the US government, leaving them just a fraction of land on reservations. The government plan was to turn them from migrating hunters, fishers and gatherers into farmers. The loss of their way of life, access to foods that sustained them for centuries together with the forced loss of their language, culture and religion resulted in an almost complete dependance from federal subsidies and significant health and mental issues. To break the vicious cycle of cultural trauma, unhealthy food and poverty, many tribes put enormous efforts in recreating and developing food sovereignty programs. The project of bringing back the bison to the Red Lake land began with community meetings about food security and food sovereignty in 2015 which led to the Red Lake Department of Agriculture two years later with three main branches: a bison ranch, a vegetable farm and a farm growing industrial hemp. After years of fencing an area of almost 300 acres, a seed herd of bison was welcomed in summer 2020 from Wind Cave National Park that keeps growing successfully in an ever-growing fenced ranch. The farm is a community learning project that provides jobs in the management of the ranch and in a processing facility. Plans are to deliver meat to local schools, local food programs and eventually outside the reservation. The first harvest of bison is planned for 2023.

bison, Red Lake Nation, Minnesota

Return of the giants

Bemidji, Minnesota, Mississippi river, bridge, Ojibwe, Ojibwe language, historical site, burial ground, sacred place

Anishinaabe Ikwe – Ojibwe woman. Bemidji, MN. The young Mississippi River in northern Minnesota flows from Lake Irving into Lake Bemidji, still heading north before it turns south on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The shoreline in this area had been sacred burial ground for Lakota and later also Ojibwe people for several centuries before Europeans began to settle there in the late 19th century. Despite the uncovering of skeletal remains of 22 people during construction work for a shop in 1988, today most of the site is paved over for parking lots, commercial buildings, and several bridges. Nothing indicates a burial site.

Sugar Point, Sugar Point Powwow Ground, powwow, Indian War, Chippewa, Pillager, Ojibwe, Bag-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, Minnesota

Still dancing. Sugar Point, MN. Two steamships loaded with soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry, US Marshalls, and local reporters left Walker, MN on October 5, 1898, and headed over Leech Lake towards Sugar Point, home of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians, to apprehend Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig. The Pillager elder had protested unfair logging practices on tribal land. Companies often underestimated the value of dead-and-down timber harvested or even set fire to forests to declare them dead wood. He also experienced the ‘bootlegging’ scheme where Native Americans were arrested for minor reasons (or none at all), sent to court several hundred miles away, and then released for insufficient evidence without any help to get back home. This time, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig called for help from his village and escaped. Wanted notices were issued and about 80 soldiers from Fort Snelling (today’s Minneapolis) soon followed, leading to what is considered the last Indian War. The one-day standoff ended with six dead soldiers and no losses on the Pillagers’ side. Based on false reporting, rumors of an ‘Indian Uprising’ soon caused a panic in the region’s towns. President McKinley fully pardoned all Chippewa people involved in the events surrounding the battle after a hearing of the Pillagers’ grievances and investigations into the logging companies’ corruption. A reform of the reservation’s forest management led to the establishment of a state forest reserve in 1902, eventually becoming the Chippewa National Forest in 1928.

Red Lake Nation, St. Mary's Cemetery, Minnesota

Low maintenance. In the 1950s, Father Cassian Osendorf, missionary of the Order of St. Benedict and at the time pastor of the Red Lake St. Mary’s parish, decided to remove overgrown brush and shrubs from the eastern part of the St. Mary’s cemetery. He wanted to level the cemetery ground to have easier maintenance access with a mower. Only very few members of the parish showed up to help. They removed an old fence and took the top stones off. In an interview in 1993 at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, he said they “measured and marked everything” so they could put the stones back later. But no plan has ever been found or presented to that purpose. They continued with removing the base stones and “loaded them in the woods”. According to him, the “highway department wanted to put them along the road by the lake where it was washing out. This made some people angry.” But Father Cassian did not feel the cemetery was desecrated. “The stones with the names on are there in the ground. We laid them flat for cutting and maintaining the cemetery. They are probably buried under now with ground and grass.” After several years of anger among the Red Lake community about what happened at this part of the cemetery, about 50 markers were unearthed and repositioned in 1993. A stone memorial was built, originally with a plate listing all names known to be buried there, and on October 3 the same year, a reconciliation and rededication service was held at the site. Abbot Timothy Kelly from the Order Of St. Benedict At St. Joseph, said in his address to the present Red Lake catholic community: …Today I come to confess that we have heard only partially, and because of our arrogance and pride we have not listened to the Spirit speaking through your experience, your suffering, your silence. … But you, and now we, also know that partial hearing has been responsible for deep hurts and even painful insults.”

Mississippi, headwaters, Itasca State Park, history, Minnesota

And here it officially begins. Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, MN. The Mississippi River emerges from several lakes and underground water flows that are fed mostly by precipitation. Yet Lake Itasca was declared to be the official headwaters and a channel bulldozed open in the 1930s. Surrounding swamps were drained and the ‘iconic’ rock rapids installed for easy access to attract tourists to the area to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression in northern Minnesota. Nomadic tribes hunted in the area for more than a thousand years and Woodland people settled there for centuries, leaving burial mounds behind. Even when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft supposedly ‘discovered’ the true headwaters in 1832 (and gave it a made-up name), he couldn’t manage without the help of Ozaawindib, a local Ojibwe leader and guide. The logging barons soon set their eyes on the old-growth pines, ceasing cutting trees only in 1920, almost three decades after a bill on creating a park to protect the headwaters area was signed into law.

Lost Forty, forest, old growth forest, Minnesota, Chippewa National Forest, pines

Roughly 61% of Minnesota was covered in forests before European settlement. Today, forested areas represent about 34%. After fueling the economy through cutting down the oldest and largest trees by the 1930s, only a very small fraction of about 2% of all forested areas today are still old growth woods. These forests have developed mostly undisturbed over hundreds of years and are protected now for their ecological, scientific, educational, and recreational values. The Lost Forty, an area of about 144 acres (0.58km²) in northern Minnesota, was mistakenly mapped as part of a lake in an 1882 survey and consequently never logged. Dominated by 300 to 400-year-old Red and White Pines, it is now part of the Chippewa National Forest.

plantation, timber, timber forest, mono-culture, Minnesota, carbon sequestration

By the 1920s, most of virgin forests in the US had been cut down, including those in Minnesota. Today, tree cover occupies about one-third of the state, with large forested areas especially common in northern Minnesota. But these are mostly production forests, biomass feeding the demands of the timber industry. Only a small percentage of old-growth forests is left in isolated, unconnected fragments. Timber forests provide thousands of jobs and generate income. They even provide income for landowners willing to maintain their trees for carbon sequestration. But timber plantations are empty. The dense rows of trees are not suitable to serve as wildlife corridors, and they suppress the growth of an understory which could provide needed habitat for biodiverse populations. The mono-culture makes these wooded areas prone to diseases and wildfires can quickly consume a plantation.

Iron Range, Mesabi Range, Minnesota, iron mining, tailings piles, waste rocks, lake, cormorants

The altered landscape. Iron ore was discovered on the Mesabi Range in 1890 and the open pits, many now filled with water, and the waste rock disposal sites have transformed the landscape since then forever. The iron mining became a magnet for immigrants from Scandinavia, Italy, Poland and Ukraine. The region was the most productive iron range in the history of North America by the 1950s, shipping millions of tons of iron ore to steel plants overseas. While the ore contained about 70 % iron in the first production decades, this dwindled to 15-30 % in the more recent Taconite production which means more waste rock, more tailings and a higher use of water in the processing.
Environmental effects of historical and current mining in the Mesabi Range persist long after the mines have closed. When groundwater floods former mines, new lakes are created which can be contaminated with toxic substances. Before the Clean Water Act became law in 1972, there were no consequences for mining companies regarding pollution. Those abandoned mines, processing facilities, and tailings piles continue to release pollutants into surrounding watersheds. The waste rock deposits which now dominate the Mesabi landscape contain sulfide minerals like pyrite. When this iron sulfide is exposed to air and water, it oxidates, creating acidic conditions that can inhibit plant growth on the orange-red-colored tailing piles. The acidic drainage decreases stream pH and may also release other toxic wastes into watersheds. While new lakes from abandoned open pits have the potential to add value to the tourism in the region, only 5% of them have been assessed for pollutants. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the majority of the few assessed lakes are either impaired or possibly healthy with not a single one considered healthy.

bore hole, test tubes, test drilling, oil spill, crude oil, Minnesota, contamination, water table

Well documented. Near Bemidji, MN. Test boreholes reach down to the water table to monitor the flow of contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons after a pipeline rupture northwest of Bemidji in 1978 released 10,000 barrels of crude oil. Each year, hundreds of scientists from across the US and the world study the effects of the accident at the now formally-named National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. Even today, almost no vegetation grows in the immediate spray zone because the oil- contaminated surface repels water.

oil spill, crude oil, Minnesota, contamination, spray zone

Ground Zero of the 1978 oil spill northwest of Bemidji, MN. Even today, almost no vegetation grows in the immediate spray zone because the oil- contaminated surface repels water.

wildfires, drought, smoke, air pollution, health hazard, air quality, Minnesota

The eerie beauty of smoke and fog: during the summer of 2021, large portions of Minnesota experienced dangerously bad air quality over unusually long times. The pollution came from large wildfires in western states of the US, in Canada, and in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region. While the wildfires were fueled by extremely hot weather and exceptional ongoing droughts, unusual weather and wind patterns as well as a lack of rain in Minnesota contributed to conditions posing a health hazard to more than typically vulnerable populations. Usual outdoor summer activities have become suddenly risky as climate change begins to affect everyday life.

Paul and Babe, Minnesota, Bemidji, rally, climate change, people

Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox Babe. Bemidji, MN. The legend about the giant lumberjack originated in northern logging camps in the late 19th century, where Paul Bunyan (who never really existed) was considered a hero for cutting down trees in huge numbers. By the 1930s, most of northern Minnesota’s old growth pine forests had been felled. When most of the numerus lumber mills disappeared soon after, it was felt that a roadside attraction was needed to bring in motorized tourists. While the cement ensemble is still one of the most photographed tourist sites in Minnesota, the plaza on the Lake Bemidji shoreline has become a rallying point in recent years for protests against crude oil pipelines crossing sensitive waterbodies, as well as for demonstrations for women’s rights, the need for action concerning climate change, and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Big Bog Recreational Area, bog, Minnesota

The scar. Big Bog Recreational Area, MN. The Big Bog in northern Minnesota is a small remnant of the gigantic glacial Lake Agassiz. It’s a peat and moss swamp in a harsh climatic environment where rare plants are found but trees are growing very slowly due to a lack of nutrients. In the early 1900s, farmers cut a straight-line drainage ditch through the bog in the hope of farming the land. The project failed, and the bog’s slow recovery makes the cutline still visible several generations later.

wagons, grafitti, sky, Minnesota, Bemidji, George Floyd, Hardell Sherrell

Heavy load: The death of George Floyd lead to protests against racism across the world. While the names of many victims of police violence are known, even more are not. Hardell Sherrell was a young black man who died while in police custody in Bemidji in 2018. Jail guards and even medical providers believed the 27-year-old inmate was faking paralysis despite his pleas for help. Only after his mother Del Shea Perry waged a long fight with the justice system, the investigation into his death was re-opened in 2020. A pathologist found that Sherrell died from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a treatable condition that attacks the nervous system causing paralysis. Perry filed a federal law suit for the death of her son. Bemidji, Minn. July 5, 2020

pelicans, Minnesota, Bemidji, Lake Bemidji

Coming back – Pelicans in Minnesota. The American white pelican had disappeared from Minnesota in the late 19th century because of human disturbance. Their eggs were harvested by settlers, their habitats destroyed, the big birds were hunted. Often anglers still consider them a competition for game fish, even if pelicans only dive as deep as their neck and beak reach, which makes walleys or pikes unavailable for them. Since the late 1960s, the pelicans have returned to Minnesota and are seen in some lakes in large colonies. The Minnesota DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program takes great efforts in providing habitat restoration and protection. The Pelicans are still considered a Species in Greatest Conservation Need. They tend to abandon their nests if they feel threatened by human encounters.

climate chamber, peat, Marcell Experimental Forest, SPRUCE, spruce, climate change, research, experiment,  environment

Ten futuristic looking climate chambers rise from a five thousand year old peatland in the Marcell Experimental Forest north of Grand Rapids. They are built around fifty-year old spruces and a ground cover mat of Labrador tea and blueberry shrubs. With five levels of imitated climate change, with warming (from 0 to +9 °C, in 2.25 °C increments) and two levels of CO2 (ambient, ≈400 ppm; elevated, ≈900 ppm), the experiment tries to anticipate possible effects on the environment exposed to a changing climate. Numerous instruments above and underground measure alterations in the vegetation over a period of 10 years. First studies indicate that peatland vegetation responds to higher temperatures with an earlier and longer growth period which can lead to an effect where pollinators are out-of-sync with their host plants. The Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) study is a unique ecosystem-scale experiment operated by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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