When we were kids, we would fish off of the causeway on Sugar Island and it was one of our favorite things to do. It really connected us with the Great Lakes in the way that was both very deep culturally. My grandmother would take us out fishing and it was just exciting. Not everyone did that, especially the way we did it. It was something that was familiar. Bologna sandwich and a strawberry milk and gram — and a fishing pole. It was really cool to be able to do that.
Sometimes [we caught] nothing. [We usually caught] nothing. Every now and then we’d catch a fish, usually perch and it's something that was plentiful over there in the St. Mary’s River. And you know, for a little kid, the fight was enormous. It was just something that was… it left a good memory. And then we would go home and gram would cook the fish up and we’d eat them and we’d have all these adventures to tell our cousins and our friends. It was just something that was, really, part of our childhood.
I think around Sugar Island is where we really identify within our family. Bay de Wasea is where we’d go out spearfishing at a time before the federal government, state government, really re-recognized our treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in the Great Lakes region. A lot of those memories come from that area, so the St. Mary’s River. Lake Superior is just an enormous, beautiful lake and we have to respect it. It demands our respect and those who don’t, we sometimes see a price that they pay, which is sad, but it does remind us that we have to respect those things in nature. I was just out fishing in the Straits of Mackinac on the east side of round island this weekend. NOAA forecasted 2-4ft waves, and of course, we get out there and there were 6-10ft waves and it reminded us that we really have to be respectful and watch how we approach these lakes. They can be so life-giving, but can also be very dangerous.
Water is life. It’s the thing that connects all of the people with the plants and animals in the environment. It flows through us, it surrounds us, it connects us to our mother earth in a very loving and intimate way. So it just has to… we have to be responsible for taking care of it and if we don’t do that, we do so at our own peril and the peril of everything around us.
I’m Dr. Martin Reinhardt, I’m an Associate Professor of Native American studies at Northern Michigan University.