History : Sokaogon Chippewa Community
In the early autumn when the leaves begin to change color, the members of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community make their way to Rice Lake, one of the last remaining ancient wild rice beds in the state of Wisconsin. The annual harvest of wild rice, an essential part of the Native American diet, has altered very little in the hundreds of years that the Sokaogon have lived here.
Family clans migrated from eastern Canada to Madeline Island a thousand years ago, led by a vision that their journey would end in a land where the "food grows on water" - Manoomin or wild rice. The Sokaogon Chippewa Community's journey ended here in this area of abundant wild rice. Competition from the Sioux resulted in the Battle of Mole Lake in 1806. Today there stands a marker on Highway 55 in Mole Lake to mark the battleground where more than 500 warriors were slain in fierce hand-to-hand battle.
Sokaogon means "Post in the Lake" people, because of a spiritual significance of a post, possibly the remains of a petrified tree, that stood in Post Lake nearby.
The Sokaogon Chippewa Community is also known as the Lost Tribe because the legal title to the 12 mile square reservation from the treaty of 1854 was lost in a shipwreck on Lake Superior. Under the provisions of the 1934 Reorganization Act, 1,745 acres of land were purchased for the Mole Lake Reservation. In 1930, a roll had been taken in the Mole Lake area and 199 Native Americans were determined to be in this band.
According to Tribal history, these Indians had been promised this land by a treaty signed with Franklin Pierce. This agent, who was to confirm the treaty and secure the land for them, drowned on his return trip from Washington. The Tribe, under the leadership of Chief Willard Ackley, finally and after a long struggle, received federal recognition and reservation status in 1937.
To this day, the Tribe actively pursues any knowledge or document to support their claim to the original treaty lands.
The Sokaogon (Mole Lake) Chippewa Community enjoys three beautiful lakes either on or adjacent to the small reservation: Mole Lake, Bishop Lake and Rice Lake, which lies at the headwaters of the Wolf River.
The Mole Lake Casino Lodge is located seven miles south of Crandon on Highway 55, 30 miles east of Rhinelander, and offer live entertainment and dancing, full service bars, Cafe Manoomin, 12 blackjack tables, and over 500 slot machines. The Casino is open every day.
The Mole Lake area boasts hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, hiking and mountain biking trails, ATV/UTV trails, and cross-country ski trails. There are over 800 lakes, 82 trout streams and 400,000 acres of public wilderness land teeming with wildlife in the vicinity. If you are looking for bald eagles, they are easy to spot soaring above Mole Lake and nearby lakes and streams.
Chief Willard Ackley
If you know anything about Mole Lake, you know that the name Ackley is well-known throughout the reservation. Chances are you also know that the name comes from one of the most iconic figures in the Tribe's modern history.
Every December 25th, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community celebrates the life of their last hereditary Chief, Willard Ackley. The day is recognized as a National Holiday within the Tribe.
"We loved and revered him. He spent his life working to make the lives of his people better," said Tribal Elder Fred Ackley, Jr., who is a nephew of the Sokaogon Chief.
Born on December 25, 1889, in a traditional Ojibwe wigwam along the shores of what the old people called "Dry Lake" (now called Bishop Lake), Chief Willard Ackley is said to have been one of the last born into "the old ways" of the Sokaogon.
"The thing about Chief Ackley is, he wasn't voted in as Tribal Chairman," says Mr. Ackley, Jr. "He was chosen by the people the old way - he came to us down through heaven, through the sky, and was put here as an Ogema (Ojibwe word for Chief)."
Chief Ackley is well known across the six Ojibwe Bands in Wisconsin and beyond, even working to help his relatives of the Lac Vieux Desert community, just north of Watersmeet in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Mr. Ackley, Jr., himself a respected Ojibwe Elder, spoke of the Chief's many deeds and desire to preserve the Sokaogon Chippewa culture. "He spent much of his life fighting to establish the Mole Lake reservation. He saw what was happening to Indian people here. He saw how his people were forced to move off their land," he said.
The Treaty of 1854, also known as the second Treaty of LaPointe, established the various reservations of the Ojibwe. Although this was to include the Mole Lake and St. Croix Bands, both were left without a land base and placed the people of each Tribe in great peril. Oral history passed down among the Ojibwe tells of corrupt government land and military agents using firewater and a language barrier, in denial of each Tribe's land claim.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable task, Chief Ackley continued his quest for repatriation for his people, and in 1939 the Sokaogon of Mole Lake were granted 1,680 acres of reservation land.
It is said Chief Ackley was an expert in many Ojibwe customs, from the use of traditional plant medicines, to hunting and fishing, to the creation of birch bark crafts. He taught many in the ways of the natural laws. He was also an ambassador of goodwill and advocated for the advancement of Indian people into the 20th century. To this day, his legacy lives on among the people of Mole Lake.
"He was a true leader of the people. He represented the Great Spirit, and everything that's good about Indian people," said Mr. Ackley, Jr. "He taught myself and many others what it means to be a good person - to be a good human being. Through him our Tribe has survived."