Mushkooub Aubid: Passing of a Great Leader

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"They

just can’t go to a hospital and take a body from the ER and put it

back into the station wagon and drive away," Aitken County

Deputy Coroner Chuck Brenny said… "Pretty soon, everybody will

be doing it."

– Manominike

Giizis, August 1990, discussing the repatriation of Egiwaateshkang

(George Aubid) by his son Mushkooub, who took his father’s body

from the coroner’s office in a station wagon home, to send him on

his path to the spirit world.

Some

things change, but many stay the same. February’s passing of

Mushkooub Aubid, son of George Aubid followed the same story line.

Mushkooub Aubid, 65, was involved in a serious car

accident on Feb. 7 and was pronounced dead at Cloquet Memorial

Hospital. His body was taken to the medical school at the University

of Minnesota Duluth, where an autopsy was set for Feb. 10, long after

the traditional practice would allow. “We just want to prepare his

body for his journey to the next world,” Winnie LaPrairie, his

widow, said. “This is the way it’s been done for thousands of

years.”

It

took, a lot of pressure and 25 tribal members to bring their chief

home. Band administrators and attorneys said a forced autopsy would

violate the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. “We’re trying

to do this peacefully and according to the law,” Dan LaPrairie,

Aubid’s son said. “But our beliefs supercede those laws. Our

father gave us explicit instructions for what to do when he passed,

and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Officiated

by Dr. Anton Treuer, the well-attended funeral and wake included

representatives from most of the Anishinaabeg communities in the

region and the traditional Midewin Societies. The funeral was held in

East Lake or Minisinaakwaang, home of the Rice Lake Band of

Mississippi Anishinaabe or Manoominikeshiins-ininiwag.

Mushkooub’s

life, like that of his father, Egiwaateshkang, and the name Mushkooub

received – He that is Firmly Affixed – was marked with defense of

the land and way of life of the Anishinaabeg, at the center of which

was the political autonomy of Minisinaaakwaang, as well as mino

bimaatisiiwin. The life given by the Creator.

His

memorial remembered that courage and tenacity, Mushkooub refused to

go to the Vietnam war because “ that was not his war.” As well,

the treaties of 1837 and 1855 would recognize that the Ojibwe are a

nation, which signed peace and friendship treaties, with the United

States. Mushkooub joined with many other Native people to take over

of the BIA building in Washington, D.C. in 1972, the liberation of

Wounded Knee in 1973 and joined his father in protesting dumping of

military and toxic wastes on the shores of Gichi Gummi (Lake

Superior).

His

accolades are long and numerous, worthy of a bard’s words from the

old times: a former Mille Lacs Band Education Director, championship

ricer – bringing in 650 pounds of rice in one day – and defender

of land and water and way of life.

In some

ways, it is not surprising that two days after Mushkooub’s passing

the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the rights of

the Anishinaabeg to continue the way of life given to us by the

Creator. In reviewing a case called “Operation Square Hook,”

where White Earth and Leech Lake tribal citizens were arrested for

gillnetting and selling of fish off the Leech Lake Reservation.

The court

found, “The United States suggests no reason why the right to net

and sell fish would not be part of the usufructuary rights reserved

by the establishment of the Leech Lake Reservation in the 1855

treaty.” The context of the 1855 treaty establishing the Leech Lake

Reservation indicates that this ‘general rule’ applies. As the

Supreme Court noted in Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band, the silence

regarding usufructuary rights in the 1855 treaty and the negotiations

leading up to it suggest that the Chippewa Indians did not believe

they were relinquishing such rights … Historical sources indicate

that the Chippewa practiced such activities during the time period

when the reservation was established. Even if the 1837 treaty does

not apply, the rights it protects are relevant because in this

particular case the Chippewa would have understood similar broad

rights to apply on the Leech Lake Reservation. We therefore conclude

that the exclusive on reservation fishing rights of the Chippewa

Indians protect the rights to fish and to sell fish.”

Interesting,

in the timing of the release of the decision and that the decision

involves the 1855 Treaty. Robert Shimek, director of the White Earth

Land Recovery Project, applauded the court and noting that the Ojibwe

who signed that treaty “insured that the way of life of the

Anishinaabe could continue, because we would have access to our land

… For people to negotiate a treaty that would stand 160 years

later, and protect present day Anishinaabe is remarkable.” “That

treaty was in a foreign language, and for our ancestors to do that,

that was a great gift, to this generation,” attorney Frank Bibeau,

long-time friend of Mushkooub said. “It is apparent the state was

more interested in spending three years and hundreds of thousands of

dollars prosecuting Native people for exercising treaty rights by

taking fish by gillnet and then selling the fish, than working with

Anishinaabe in protecting the watershed of those fish in the long

run,” referring to recent efforts to prevent the Sandpiper crude

oil pipeline and Square Hook decisions, adding “our off-reservation

treaty harvesting rights include a natural, preemptive right to

protect our environment because we plan on our future generations

living here, as we always have, forever.”

A major

concern of Mushkooub was mining proposals. The Tamarack Mine Project

is in the same watershed as the Minisiwaaning, or Rice Lake/East Lake

Band of Anishinaabeg. The mining interests have leased 35,000 acres

of land, not far from Big Sandy and Round Lakes, Savanna Portage

State Park and the Grayling Wildlife Management Area.

A venture

of Talon Mining and Rio Tinto Zinc/Kennecott (the largest copper

mining company in the world), the Tamarack proposal has resulted in

some 124,700 feet or 23.7 miles, of drill core samples from the area.

Ironically, it was impossible to book a hotel room in the nearby town

of McGregor on the night of the wake, as the hotel was filled with

drilling contractors.

Geologists

estimate more than 10 million tons of mineable ore below. The

recovery ratio for copper is 0.16 percent, much smaller than the

average for other metals (4.5 percent). In other words, you need to

remove 1 billion tons of material to recover 1.6 tons of copper. The

only substance with a lower recovery rate is gold.

Talon

officials say the copper and other valuable minerals are roughly

1,000 to 1,500 feet below the surface and that the mine "will be

an underground mine, if it is able to get through Minnesota’s

exacting permitting process” – or more to the point – get past

the strict regulations that protect the state grain, wild rice,

sacred to the Anishinaabeg.

The mining

proposal would create sulfuric acid discharge into the very rice

beds, from which Mushkooub harvested his legendary 650 pounds. In a

move this February to override state regulations regarding sulfuric

acid, Minnesota Sens. Tomassoni, Saxhaug, Bakk and Ingebrigtsen

introduced S.F. 868. The bill would “[prohibit] the application of

wild rice water quality standards.”

Minnesota’s

water quality rule limiting sulfates to 10 milligrams per liter in

wild rice waters and was enacted in 1973 in order to protect natural

stands of wild rice. The proposed legislative change seems focused on

particularly the proposed Tamarack and PolyMet mines, both within

wild rice areas. Separately, the Enbridge Sandpiper line (now with a

second line proposed to adjoin it, with l.4 million barrels a day of

oil) goes through the same watershed.

In terms

of the law, it seems that burial within your traditional way of life,

should be recognized. And to be honest, it seems like 25 years is

long enough for a county with a high Native population to figure out

how to regulate tribal autopsies. It’s not like this dying is a new

thing . Dr. Tadd Johnson, at the University of Minnesota Duluth,

explains that things clearly need to be changed. “Under current

Minnesota law, the Medical Examiners have a great deal of authority.

Even after a court order was granted which ordered the Medical

Examiner to return the body of Mushkooub Aubid to his family (and

later in the week 24 year-old Autumn Martineau of Fond du Lac who

died in a car accident got a similar court order), the Medical

Examiner refused to return the bodies until the county attorney

intervened. In states such as New York, laws exist wherein if the

family of the decedent requests that an autopsy not be performed

because of religious reasons, the Medical Examiner complies,” Tadd

explains.

“There

are exceptions built into the New York law (homicides, suspicion of

foul play, etc); however, the law at least allows the family to

object to an autopsy for religious freedom reasons. Certain faiths

(Orthodox Judaism, Hmong, Christian Scientists, Midewewin) do not

believe in desecrating the body by cutting into it after death. Some

of us believe a coalition of Native Americans and other faiths should

organize and get an amendment to the Minnesota law on autopsies to

honor these religious beliefs and let people be buried (and families

mourn) pursuant to their own traditions,” Tadd continued.

There is –

in the end – a conflict between world views and ways of life. Some

call it the white man paperwork: autopsy reports on deceased Indians,

permitting of projects that are known to damage the ecosystem. What

Mushkooub stood for is to be Anishinaabeg and perhaps his father’s

words of 30 years ago remind us all of what that means.

“We do

not have thousands upon thousands of dollars. We do not have great

mansions of beauty. We do not have priceless objects of art. We do

not lead a life of ease, nor do we live in luxury. We do not own the

land upon which we live. We do not have the basic things of life

which we are told are necessary to better ourselves. But I want to

tell you now that that we do not need these things What we need,

however, is what we already have. What we need has been provided to

us by the Great Spirit. We need to realize who we are and what we

stand for. We are the keepers of that which the Great Spirit has

given to us, that is our language, our culture, our drum societies,

our religion, and most of all our traditional way of life. We need to

be Anishinaabeg again.”

– George

Aubid, Egiwaateshkang