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Exploring the Rich History of the Roseau River Region and Its People

Nestled along the border between Minnesota and Manitoba, the Roseau River region is an often overlooked region. The surrounding landscape is filled with lush forests, rolling hills, and sparkling rivers. It’s also a place of deep history and rich culture. For centuries, this area has been home to many indigenous peoples, including the Ojibwe, Sioux, and Mandan tribes. Today, visitors can explore the Roseau – Warroad communities and discover its vast natural resources while also learning about the long-standing history of Native Americans in this beautiful region.
Long before Europeans arrived in North America in search of new lands to settle on, native peoples inhabited this area for thousands of years. When French explorers arrived they found native tribes living along the Roseau River and watched as they worked the land and the natural resources to survive. The Ojibwe, Anishinabe people, were the first indigenous people to inhabit this part of Minnesota; their name means “to roast until it puckers up” in reference to their traditional method of cooking fish over hot stones. You can study the rich history by visiting the Roseau County Historical Society Museum located in Roseau, MN. Many local natives can trace their ancestry back 6 generations. Their ancestors knew a good thing when they settled here.

The Anishinaabe communities have lived in the region for centuries, fishing for sturgeon and walleye, hunting moose and waterfowl, gathering wild rice, trapping beaver and muskrat pelts for trading purposes, producing maple syrup from nearby trees, harvesting medicinal plants from the forest floor and much more. They traveled along the Roseau River, which was rich for fishing as a food source, particularly during brutal winter months, using canoes as a means of transportation. Today, the Anishinabe continue the fight for inclusive river access and fishing rights both in Manitoba and northern Minnesota. Only 17 minutes from Roseau, you can visit a tribal reservation.

Not only were the Native Americans good at working with the natural resources of the region they were also artists. At a Pow Wow, dancers adorned with vibrant beads, feathers, quills, leather and ribbons gather to dance in celebration and worship. Their Pow Wows celebrate a beautiful blend of music, dance, and the art of bead working into their clothing. Open to the general public, powwows give non-Natives a look at the colorful culture and artistry of Minnesota’s Dakota and Ojibwe nations. “If you haven’t seen a drum group live, it really is something you have to see.” Drummers circle a large drum, which is blessed and considered sacred, and sing songs passed from one generation to the next. Visitors can bring a chair or grab a spot in the stands to watch women’s fancy dance competitors expertly move their feet while their arms stretch out to display their decorative shawls. Listen for the festive sound of jingle dress dancers whose skirts glitter with hundreds of metal cones, traditionally crafted from rolled snuff can lids.

The Warroad Folk School teaches classes on native bead working, making of moccasins, and other artistic expression such as dream catchers. A dream catcher is an art piece that Native American’s would hang in their sleeping areas as a way to capture the bad spirits that might try to sneak up on them as they slept. Their traditions are deep in the community.
In addition to its history, this area also boasts a rich biodiversity that is sure to awe any nature lover visiting from near or far. Medicine men and native tribes lived off the earth and gathered herbs for healing and honored the wildlife. This region contains some 25 species considered rare or endangered by state authorities—including birds like trumpeter swans and harlequin ducks— as well as beavers, otters, muskrats, wolves, and moose. In fact, it’s believed that more bald eagles and moose are living in northern Minnesota today than there were 100 years ago! The bald eagle and golden eagles are important birds in Native American culture and rituals. The birds were symbols of respect and honor and their feathers were often used in tribal ceremonies. With such an abundance of wildlife roaming freely through these woods—both past and present—it’s no wonder why so many people flock here each year to explore its natural beauty firsthand.

The two best places to see this impressive biodiversity thriving is in the Hayes Lake State Forest, This forest covers more than 10,000 acres of land along the Roseau River. Visitors can explore miles of trails that wind through cedar swamps, hardwood forests, wetlands, and prairies—or they can enjoy fishing or canoeing on the lake. The beauty of this area is unparalleled, and it’s not difficult to see why it has been continually inhabited for thousands of years.

The Roseau River region has much to offer those looking for an exciting adventure away from home. Visitors will find plenty here that will keep them busy for days on end, from exploring its vast wilderness areas, to discovering a deeper understanding of its long-standing Native American history and fostering a connection with the indigenous peoples who still thrive here today! Whether looking for a relaxing getaway or something a bit more adventurous, filled with outdoor activities like fishing or canoeing along one of its many rivers and lakes—this place truly has something for everyone! So what are you waiting for? Come check out all the natural beauty that northern Minnesota has to offer!


“Mickinock’s Village at Ross, Minnesota (1887) was a unique village that existed until the early 1900s under chiefs Cobenais and Mickinock They maintained several camps along the Roseau River in northern Minnesota. The main village was located on the shores of Roseau Lake, which has since been drained for agriculture in the early 20th century.

Mickinock was famous for quelling a settler panic during the Ghost Dance phenomenon, when local white settlers heard a rumor that there would be an Indian uprising. The settlers fled their homes, leaving their livestock. Mickinock, Cobenais, and others fed and watered the livestock of several farms until word could be sent that there was no uprising. This saved the livestock from starvation.

There was also a legend of a windigo that supposedly lived in the muskeg around the lake. One day, it was reported that the windigo could be seen walking near the village and the next day Mickinock’s wife died.
To learn more about this paranormal tale visit this YouTube site.

This photo, taken in 1887, shows Cobenais (wearing a green blanket around his waist) and Mickinock (holding a rifle), their wives and other relatives. The man standing with the little girl is a Metis man named Billy McGillis. He was originally from Red River settlement, but was forced to flee when he was accused of a murder. He wound up south of the Medicine Line at Mickinock’s village and stayed – becoming their interpreter as he knew English.

Today, there is a stone monument designating where the village once stood.”

Parts of this story were shared by the great great granddaughter of Chief Cobiness. Kayla James. Her family still resides in Roseau County and appreciates the living history of their ancestors.

To learn more about Native American land acknowledgments and treaties visit this website.
This site maps Indigenous lands in a way that changes, challenges, and improves the way people see history and the present day. It is their goal to strengthen the spiritual bonds that people have with the land, its people, and its meaning.

Enhanced & colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/19/2020)

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