Star Island Fire History

February 25, 2021
2 men taking measurements in the forest
Pencil-thin wood sample are collected from living, old-growth red pine on Star Island, Oct. 2018.

Tribal knowledge and tree-ring research have been brought together to explore the cultural and ecological history of Star Island in Cass Lake through the Star Island Fire History Partnership. The partnership brings together expertise from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, the Leech Lake Tribal College, the University of Minnesota, and the Chippewa National Forest.  Lane Johson, Research Forester with the UMN Cloquet Forestry Center, is part of the research group. The partnership has developed a fire history using samples collected from fire-scarred red pine stumps and logs on Windigoominis (Star Island), in Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag (Cass Lake), MN to initiate conversations surrounding the influence of Ojibwe land use on forest landscapes. Star Island holds an important place in Ojibwe tradition as a gathering place and former residence. We identified fire events on the island that were contemporaneous with Ojibwe use suggestive of cultural fire traditionally used to enhance resource availability and manage forest vegetation. We identified 12 fires between 1747–1902 that were largely synchronous across the entire island. A cluster of fires in the late 1700s and early 1800s suggest fires were too frequent to have been started by lightning. The last fire recorded in 1902 is contemporaneous with the establishment of the Minnesota Forest Reserve (the Chippewa National Forest), the removal of the Ojibwe from the island, and increased recreational use of the island by white tourists. This fire history is a means of opening broad dialogue among interdisciplinary groups to share eco-cultural perspectives on fire, land use, and environmental history.

Read the full article on Star Island Fire History on page 6 in the January 2021 Debahjimon: Newspaper of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Other Star Island Fire History project partners include:

  • Kurt Kipfmueller, Daniel Brumm, Evan Montpellier, and Madison Pettersen-Bradford, Department of Geography, Environment, and Society, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • Amy Burnette, Division of Resource Management, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Cass Lake, MN
  • Melinda Neville and Daniel Devault, Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass Lake, MN
  • Sean Dunham and Marcie Gotchie, Chippewa National Forest, United States Forest Service, Cass Lake, MN