For the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, fishing goes beyond commerce and cuisine. Fishing the pristine waters of Anishinaabewi Gichigami–Lake Superior–surrounding the Apostle Islands has been a way of life for the Tribe and its ancestors since time immemorial.
“We have gathered rice and fished these waters for countless generations,” says Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Vice-Chairman Nathan Gordon. “We have always shown our waters, land and animals respect, and they have always provided for us.”
With the opening of the Tribally-owned Red Cliff Fish Company in November 2020, the Tribe can now buy fish directly from private Tribal fishermen. Red Cliff Fish Company then sells this fresh whitefish, lake herring, lake trout and walleye to both wholesalers as well as directly to the general public through its fish market. Red Cliff Band fishermen can dock and unload at the facility where the fish is processed and ready for the plate within hours, Gordon says.
“Our people have a need to fish, it’s in our blood,” says Gordon. “Fishing is such a part of who we are. So now we can help our people continue to fish and make a living right here in Red Cliff.”
Gordon says that fish by-product is used as fertilizer and compost at the Tribe’s Mino Bimaadiziiwin Farm (“Return to the Good Life Farm”), just a few miles from the fish processing building. The 35-acre farm is open to public tours and includes medicine beds where traditional herbs and plants are grown for Tribal members. The farm also has apple orchards, livestock and a greenhouse where vegetables are grown.
A gift shop next to the fish market sells Red Cliff Fish Company t-shirts and hats, Gordon says, and is planning on expanding to offering other items such as beadwork made by Tribal artists.
Gordon says it’s important to add agritourism to the Tribe’s economy because agriculture and harvesting are such a part of the Tribe, and that it’s important for Tribal members to make a living continuing these traditions. It’s also important for the public to learn about the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s relationship with the environment.
“We can support our Tribal members, ensure our food sovereignty and teach others about our culture of caring for the environment,” Gordon says. “It’s a good thing for everyone.”
Red Cliff Band and other Ojibwe Nations fought in court in the 1970s to maintain treaty rights to hunt and fish in their traditional waters. Called the Wisconsin Walleye War, the tribes reasserted treaty rights that supersede federal regulations. Fishing today–whether from crew-manned commercial boats or traditional spearfishing by lantern in birch canoes–ensures the Tribe’s sovereignty and traditions, and year-round access to healthy food.
Beyond the Red Cliff Fishing Company, the Tribe has several other enterprises open to the public. Its Legendary Waters Resort & Casino has 47 deluxe rooms and suites that all overlook Lake Superior and Apostle Islands. The casino features slot machines and table games, as well as live entertainment. The resort’s Legends Sports Grill has a fish fry every Friday night, serving fillets from the Red Cliff Fish Company.
For guests who’d rather sleep under the stars, the nearby Buffalo Bay Campground next to the resort has 34 RV sites with electrical and water hookups, 11 tent sites, a restaurant, snack bar and lounge. A few miles north of the resort and even more secluded, Point Detour “Wilderness” Campground has minimalist tent sites and sweeping views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. For boaters, Buffalo Bay Marina has a boat launch and 45 slips, and the beach is open for swimming. Miles of trails are open to hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing at Frog Bay Tribal National Park, as is fishing within the park.
The public can explore Lake Superior’s Red Cliff sea caves via kayak with Rustic Makwa Den tours, owned by a Tribal member, and after enjoying a cocktail made with locally grown ingredients and Lake Superior water at the Copper Crow Distillery, owned by Tribal members
The Red Cliff Annual Pow Wow the first weekend in July and Red Cliff Annual Cultural Days the third weekend in September also invite visitors to learn about the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa past and present.
“We’re a hidden gem in the Northwoods in the heart of the Apostle Islands, Gordon says. “We’d like people to know that we’re a four-season destination and that we’ve been here for a very long time and will continue to be here.”
For a digital copy of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tourism guide, visit here.