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Susie Island returned to Grand Portage Band

Susie Island chain in Lake Superior
Susie Island chain in Lake Superior

The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and The Nature Conservancy announced this week that Susie Island has been returned to the tribe.
The 142-acre island is the largest of 13 small, rocky islands jutting out of Lake Superior amid the high cliffs and hills where the Pigeon River empties into Lake Superior in the extreme northeast corner of the state near the border with Canada.

“The Band really appreciates the role The Nature Conservancy played in restoring Susie Island to Band ownership,” said Grand Portage Chairman Norman Deschampe. “The Conservancy recognized that it could help our people accomplish a long-term goal and, at the same time, ensure that the islands will be protected. It was the right thing to do for many reasons.”

The Nature Conservancy and the Grand Portage Band agreed Susie Island should be maintained in its natural state and in January 2016 the Grand Portage Reservation Tribal Council voted to initiate the process to return the island to the Grand Portage Band.

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs recently agreed to the Grand Portage Band’s request that Susie Island be placed into trust status on its behalf. The result is that Susie Island will continue to be preserved and managed in its natural state by the Band.

The Grand Portage Band owns most of the other islands in the Susie Island archipelago, which is located entirely within the boundaries of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. The Band has reacquired more than 95 percent of its original lands.

The Band’s Tribal Council and its professional land management staff have a strong record of managing tribal lands and waters for conservation, and their natural resource protection goals and policies ensure Susie Island’s continued protection.
The Nature Conservancy acquired Susie Island in several transactions with different landowners between 1973 and 1991 to protect its native plants and wildlife and to preclude it from being developed.
In addition, the island's sheer cliffs, rocky promontories and poor soils are inhospitable for many plants. This "cloud forest" environment supports a rich variety of mosses and lichens, and a blanket bog of sphagnum mosses one to three feet thick has spread over much of the island.

Susie Island is currently undeveloped forestland, but it has a history of mining, logging and commercial fishing. Archaeologists from the National Park Service have found evidence of all these activities on the island, but little remains that is highly visible.

Because of its sensitive native plants, remote location, hazards to boaters and significance to the Band, The Nature Conservancy required special permission to visit the island. Permission must now be obtained from the Band.
“It’s preserved for the Band and the people here,” Deschampe said. “Our people go out there fishing and gathering.”
Anyone who wants a great view of Susie Island and the archipelago, however, can stop by either of two overlooks located along Highway 61 between Mount Josephine and the U.S./Canadian customs station.
Below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Peggy Ladner, the director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota.