Sokaogon Chippewa Community News
Honoring Chief Willard Ackley
We hope you are doing well.
Our e-newsletter is being sent to you today because tomorrow Tribal offices will be closed all day and the Clinic will be closing at Noon to honor Chief Willard Ackley’s birthday.
Chief Ackley, the last hereditary Chief of the Sokaogon Chippewa, was 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).
Before his passing, Fred Ackley, Jr., a nephew of Chief Ackley, shared, “The thing about Chief Ackley is, he wasn’t voted in as Tribal Chairman. 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 was regarded as 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 to the 20th century.
Fred spoke of the Chief’s many deeds and desire to preserve the Sokaogon Chippewa culture, sharing, “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.”
The Treaty of 1854, also known as the second Treaty of LaPointe, established several Ojibwe reservations. 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 peril. The Tribe, under the leadership of Chief Ackley, finally and after a long struggle, received federal recognition and reservation status in 1937.
Chief Ackley met with many government officials to obtain federal recognition for the Sokaogon Chippewa. At a 1934 meeting in Ashland, Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier asked Chief Ackley where he wanted the reservation to be. Chief Ackley stated he wanted the reservation to be located at Rice Lake for the wild rice beds. The Chief took a handful of wild rice out of his pocket and stated, “This is the food of Indian people.”
Despite the seemingly insurmountable task, Chief Ackley continued his quest for repatriation for his people. In 1939, the Sokaogon of Mole Lake were granted 1,680 acres of reservation land.
Mrs. Alice Randall spoke at a meeting of the Marinette County Historical Society. Here is an excerpt from the manuscript she used as she addressed the Marinette County Society –
“My brother, Willard, on July 5, 1966, made a proclamation, “I, Willard L. Ackley as the present and sixth Chief of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe and also known as the Post Lake Band, Lakes, Band, Pelican Lake Band and Mole Lake Band, do hereby make this proclamation to my people, members of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe, old and young alike, never at anytime take termination on this 1850 acres of land held in restricted status by the United States of America but given to us by the President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, Washington, D.C. under the re-organization act of 1934.”
“I word that the Bureau of Indian Affairs give to me and my people, members of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe, a deed to this 1,850 acres of land so that it would always remain tax free to my people and remain as a whole. I word that my people, members of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe, to feel that they have the freedom to come back to their Mole Lake reservation to live, old or young alike, at any time they wish, build homes if they need be. I word that the members of the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe teach each other the importance of keeping this 1,850 acres of land held in restrictive status for their use, as it is the only security that they will have.” ~ excerpts from A Chippewa Indian Tells The Story of Her Life by Edward Ehlert.
In 1962, with the help of his sister, Alice Randall, Chief Ackley was able to successfully apply for a Historical Marker retelling the story of the Battle of Mole Lake.
“He was a true leader of the people. He represented the Great Spirit, and everything that’s good about Indian people,” Fred said. “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.”