Telling the Rusk County story, right from the beginning

A Wisconsin community comes together to build a wigwam and learn more about its history

Preserve and share. Driven by this mantra, the Rusk County Historical Society tells the story of Rusk County, Wisconsin—from its very beginnings to the present day.

“I had some sisters who were visiting the museum,” says Sister Cecilia Fandel, who sits on the board of the historical society, and is now the project director of the society’s Native American exhibit. “I wanted to show them what our county was like when our sisters first moved here in 1912. The first thing they said to me when we got out of the car was, ‘Can we see the Native American exhibit?’

“I gulped because, at the time, we didn’t have one. In fact, we weren’t properly recognizing that part of our history at all.” Sister Fandel knew this had to change, so she brought it to the attention of the rest of the board: “We have to tell the story from the beginning. not just from when the first loggers came.”

Fandel’s efforts paid off and the historical society decided to undertake a new project—adding an important prologue to the county narrative.

“We wanted our first Native American project to be something the community could get engaged in and actively participate in,” says Fandel, whose society consulted with Wayne Valliere, educational and cultural Elder of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, and decided to build a traditional summer wigwam, using natural materials.

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Built with community harvested willow branches and birch bark, and bound together by “weigob,” a pliable fiber stripped from the inner lining of the basswood, the wigwam is preserved inside a geodesic dome—all of which was blessed by Al Baker, a cultural leader from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation during dedication ceremonies in July 2019.

Enbridge is committed to supporting the communities near our operations and projects, including our nearby Line 3 Replacement Project. Our recent donation of $5,000 has helped fund the society’s recently unveiled cultural exhibit.

The history of the wigwam in the area is rich. Historically, the Lac Courte Oreilles Band near Hayward used wigwams in the warmer seasons to trap, hunt and harvest maple sap, wild herbs and berries. “They would leave the frames of the wigwams, but roll up the birch bark coverings and take those back to their village for the winter,” says Fandel.

Community members worked closely with Valliere to ensure the historical accuracy and authenticity of the project.

“The community has been very involved every step of the way,” she says. “We also went into all schools in the county to educate and speak to staff about the importance of accurately teaching Native American culture and treaties.”

As part of those visits, students received educational resource materials and books.