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KBIC acquires 760 acres in Baraga County

BARAGA — The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community received 760 acres of Baraga County forestland from The Nature Conservancy at a ceremony Wednesday.

The land is within the boundaries established in an 1842 treaty that created the reservation. TNC purchased the land in 2021 from a local owner.

The deed was officially signed over during the KBIC Tribal Council meeting Wednesday.

KBIC is assuming ownership of land adjacent to TNC’s 9,760-acre Slate River Forest Reserve, which the conservation organization also purchased in 2021. The area, managed by TNC as a working forest, is considered one of the highest-quality managed native forests in the Upper Peninsula, and protects several streams flowing directly to Lake Superior, including almost four miles of the Slate River, TNC said in a release.

“We are so honored to be here, and we are so honored to be working with your team … and we are very honored to be returning this land,” Helen Taylor, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan, said at Wednesday’s signing.

In a statement, she heralded the KBIC’s history of stewardship, cultural teachings that “signify and honor the connection between people, wildlife and the natural world around us.”

Taylor presented gifts to the KBIC, including fabric bearing the likeness of a dragonfly, which symbolizes happiness.

In a statement, KBIC Natural Resources Director Evelyn Ravindran said the KBIC is dedicated to long-term protection of natural resources and healthy ecosystems, as well as preserving its tradition and culture for future generations.

Those values created a natural affinity with the TNC, she said. The TNC has worked with the KBIC in other capacities, such as the Keweenaw Heartlands Project, which protected more than 32,000 acres in Keweenaw County. TNC has also shown interest in collaborating with the KBIC on projects such as wildlife monitoring and wild rice restoration.

“With the goal of making significant land purchases to help the world reverse climate change and biodiversity loss, TNC worked diligently on a Slate River Forest land purchase … TNC has committed to the continuance of good stewardship of these lands. which are open for the enjoyment of the whole community and is inclusive on decision making with co-stewards,” Ravindran said. “In addition, TNC has shown their understanding, commitment to, and respect for tribal sovereignty with the transfer of lands within the L’Anse Indian Reservation exterior boundaries to KBIC. We are honored by their trust in us as fellow caretakers of these lands and it is with great pleasure and a grateful heart that I say ‘Chi-miigwetch’ to our esteemed allies.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, KBIC Council Treasurer Theodore “Austin” Ayres thanked TNC for transferring the land.

“It’s a great way to honor the legacy of the stewards who have been here for a lifetime, many lifetimes,” he said. “So miigwetch, and I think that there’s a lot of other organizations and groups that could take a lesson from this.”

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