The Mille Lacs Lake area is a great place for boating, walleye fishing, and several other outdoor activities (visit the official website to learn more), but it’s also home to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and an excellent museum on the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation.
The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post details the history of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. Interactive displays and videos tell personal stories while authentic artifacts and costumes add to the experience.
The museum teaches about the history of the Ojibwe, their dances, clothing, customs, language, and much more. One section tells about life on the reservation and how the people living on it have persevered and prospered as the years have passed and their way of life has changed. Near the entrance, there’s even a space for children to create their own artwork.
The most interesting part is a presentation by a staff member in the Four Seasons Room. This room is full of life sized displays of Ojibwe camps from the early 1700s and shows how they lived in all four seasons.
The displays are beautifully done and very realistic. They cover maple sugar production in the spring, life in the summer, rice harvesting in the fall, and weaving in the winter. The construction of wigwams is discussed, with explanations on how they kept cool in summer and warm in winter, and the process of moving camps every season.
Admission to the museum is US$9. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In April, May, September, and October, it’s open from 11am to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday. Give yourself about an hour to enjoy it and about 20 minutes more for the presentation.
The adjacent Indian Trading Post is a shop that was opened in 1920 by Harry and Jeannette Ayer. They traded with the local Ojibwe and resold the items in the shop. They donated the Trading Post and their personal collection of Ojibwe artifacts to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1959, and the museum opened shortly after in 1960.
Inside the entrance of the Trading Post is a display dedicated to its history. The store is attached, and the hours are the same as the museum’s.
Behind the Trading Post is the home built by the Ayers in 1941 along with a few remaining tourist cottages they had built on the land. Their little resort was a popular retreat from the 1920s to the 1940s and was often fully booked in summer. Info plaques explain the stories.
The foundations of the Mille Lacs Indian Boat Works are also on the land. From 1929 to 1939, Harry Ayer employed several members of the Mille Lacs Band to build boats. He would use the boats on fishing expeditions on the lake and would sell others. Over 200 boats were made during this time.
Not too far from the museum is the Grand Casino Mille Lacs. This resort and casino is an important source of income for the Mille Lacs Band, providing them with funds for education, healthcare, and much more.
On the northwest corner of the lake is the tiny town of Garrison. A giant walleye greets visitors driving through and reminds them that Mille Lacs Lake is a premier spot for walleye fishing.
A small park with a historical marker is located right on the lake and has some great views out onto the lake.