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Birdshot and backlashes

It is sometimes amazing the stuff people pick up. Like names of things. Every now and then a visitor to the area wants know what the word “Quetico” means. They assume it has some significant Indian connotation. Like everybody else, I wondered about this, once upon time. My Canadian friends explained that it is a contraction of Quebec Timber Co. It was shortened to Que-ti-co.” I never explain it to visitors unless they insist because it kind of throws their wilderness ideas into the lake.Another one, which is simply a mispronunciation, is Bois Forte, which is forever pronounced like “Boys Fort.” The facts are, it is a French term from back in the Voyageur days, meaning “Wood Fort” or place in the woods. Only the name has gotten screwed up with time and even the Indians pronounce it as “Boys Fort.” The French pronunciation of Bois is “Bwah.” If we were going to correctly pronounce the name of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, we should call it the “Bwah Fort” Band of Ojibwe. It is doubtful if anybody really cares about pronouncing it correctly, not even the Indians.So the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino will continue through history as being owned by the “Boys Fort” Band of Ojibwe. Early explorers were often called Courier du Bois or “Runners of the Woods.” That is pronounced Courier du Bwah” It really doesn’t matter to anyone except that it’s the wrong pronunciation to use the term “Boys” for “Bois.”The Ojibwe term for forest is “meh-gwe-yak,” which is what the Indian people call the wilderness. Indeed, no Indian tribe has a word which translates out as “wilderness.” Along with the word meh-gwe-yak, used by the Ojibwe, they also use the word “geh-way” which means “home.” Thus, when talking about the wilderness, the Ojibwe people use the words geh-way or meh-gwe-yak…either “forest” or “home.” The word “wilderness” was brought over to North America by our European ancestors and was originally used to denote the wild and foreboding woodland lying outside the village gate. It was only after the whole continent was taken over by Caucasians, that the perception was changed to denote “wilderness” as something peaceful, pristine and sublime. To put it a different way, there is now a lot more “wilderness” in the big city than in the woods.Every designated federal “wilderness” in the United States was formerly tribal land belonging to one Indian tribe or another. The reason a lot of that back country was uninhabited was because the original inhabitants were removed or forced out for one reason or another. Native people lived there, just like they lived in the Boundary Waters. There were Ojibwe people living in villages in the Boundary Waters up through the 1920s, until the woods were cut down, the game killed off and the Indians couldn’t make a living there anymore. Thus it became an uninhabited “wilderness.”A lot of people who come up here now think the BWCAW was always a big vacant hunk of forest and lakeland. No such a thing. There were people living there. Archeology digs show that there were people living in the BWCAW and the Quebec Timber Co. Park at least 9,000 years ago or longer. Ever since the last glacier. The 1964 Wilderness Act says that a “wilderness” is a place where people do not dwell. That is a definition passed by the Congress to insure that the Indians can never come back and claim their tribal lands.Of course, all of that, like everything else, is temporary. We have no way of knowing what future generations of people may think. Quetico Park has the western third managed by the Lac La Croix Band of Ojibwe as sort of an apology by the Canadian government for stealing it from them in the first place.It is doubtful if the U.S. government is ever going to have any guilt feeling about swiping the BWCAW from the Ojibwe. But then, you never know.

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