Marinette dredging project honors Menominee tribal history

Menekaunee Harbor in Marinette, November 3, 2015 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

Conservation, history, and culture came together Tuesday morning in Marinette.

The mouth of the Menominee River is regarded as the birthplace of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.

And a dredging project in the harbor is bringing new life to the more than just the area.

On the banks of the Menominee River, in Marinette, tribal drummers welcomed the crowd.

"This is the actual birthplace of our nation. We've been on this land for 10,000-plus years," said Guy Reiter, Menominee Tribal Member.

Reiter says the mouth of the Menominee River is 60 miles from the Menominee Indian Reservation, but this land, water and wild rice are sacred.

"Other tribes in our state used to call us Omaeqnomenew--People of the Wild Rice. They said wherever we went the rice would follow us," said Reiter.

On Tuesday, about 100 tribal members honored their history.

"We all wanted to get our hands on, and be involved and have everybody be able to offer their own tobacco, and their own prayer to the water," said Reiter.

The ceremony is part of a celebration for a multi-year $6.5 million restoration project in Menekaunee Harbor. A deeper channel flows into Lake Michigan, past native vegetation and beds of wild rice planted by the Department of Natural Resources.

"Our hope is to create a focal point with the habitat restoration area, so people can come and enjoy the birds, the animals that will inhabit the area, and enjoy the area when they come up to Marinette, and visit Menekaunee Harbor," said Brian Miller, Marinette City Engineer.

And while parts of the Menominee River may have the look of industry, Menominee tribal members say the Menekaunee Harbor project is a step in the right direction.

"Would your ancestors be proud today? You know, that's a pretty hard question, it almost brings me to tears to think of it. I sure hope they are," said Reiter.

Improvements to the harbor will continue.

Plans are in the works to build informational booths highlighting the history of the Menominee, as well as a statue of the tribe's ancestral bear.

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