The Free State of Superior Flag Concept

Free State of Superior: Since time immemorial

By Joshua Jongema


The struggle for independence in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, and greater Superior region, is a macrocosm of the general struggle of any individual against a violent state. The two books, Chippewa Customs (Densmore, 1979) and Chippewa Treaty Rights (Satz, 1994), reveal the story of war against free individuals, waged by the US federal government. It is a story of the Ojibwa tribe, which is part of a family of tribes called Anishinaabe, meaning First Man. The US military, on behalf of crony interests and oft against the wishes of european settlers, waged open and covert war against the Ojibwa who tried repeatedly and consistently to live peacefully. Weakened and desperate, the Ojibwa were relegated to reservations, assimilated, and every aspect of their lives has been supplied and managed by the federal government. The Ojibwa should never have become enslaved, morally, and it would be just to set them free- to set all individuals free from the violent force and coercion of government.

Anishinaabe Origins

While our forefathers were living on the great salt water toward the rising sun, the great Megis (sea shell) showed itself above the surface of the great water, and the rays of the sun for a long period were reflected from its glossy back. It gave warmth and light…gave life…sank from sight, and death daily visited…once more showed its bright back at Mo-ning-wun-a-kaun-ing (La Pointe), where it has ever since reflected back the rays of the sun, and blessed our ancestors with life, light, and wisdom. Its rays reach the remotest villages of our widespread Ojibways.” – Ojibwa Oral History

The Ojibwa descend from the Algonquin people who settled around Lake Superior at least 8,000 years before the first european settlement came. There were large village centers at Sault Ste. Marie, L’Abre Croche, Mackinac, L’Anse, Green Bay, and Fond du Lac, and each village center had many smaller villages surrounding them. Early european trade posts pulled natives from upriver and backwoods to points of trade. By the early 1800s conservative estimates by state officials of Ojibwa population in the Superior region was at over 3000, in 7 autonomous village-centers, with over 1000 in the smaller villages around at 100-150 each.

The free indigenous of the Superior region were surrounded by abundant resources which met all of their needs. If some in the tribe made better use of what they had, or if a family had more than enough, they frequently gifted to others in a friendly manner. It was considered beneath their dignity to “dicker” or trade with a motive of getting an exact equivalent.

Customs of War and Rights of Revenge

To signal danger to their village, Ojibwa warriors used a flute. If a warrior wanted to lead a war party, he would send a messenger with tobacco to ask other warriors to join. Those who were willing signified this willingness by smoking the pipe. Warriors would assemble and camp near the lodge of the leader, who gave a feast and explained the details of his plan. There he would receive the final pledges of all the warriors.

If the matters were of great importance the messenger might carry the symbolic red hand, which was made under the direction of (an) old warrior(s). The hand was made of buckskin, life sized, and was filled with moss. An opening at the side of the wrist revealed the tobacco. The hand was smeared with red paint to represent blood. A pipe was laid across the palm of the hand, the fingers were folded over it, and the whole thing was wrapped in cloth or buckskin. The hand tradition originated in the story of a Sioux man who married an Ojibwa woman and lived with her tribe after a great truce. He beat and killed her, and that began the custom of the bloody hand as a call to war (against the Sioux).

The right of revenge is a custom among the Ojibwa where relatives of a murdered man could avenge his death by killing the murderer or, if they wished, could adopt the murderer into their family. Chiefs did not interfere in this right. The Ojibwa were fine warriors but did not engage in war with european settlers. They were described as interested in acquiring the benefits of civilization, which didn’t turn out well for them.

History of US War vs Indigenous

When the US Constitution was ratified four federal agencies were created including the War Office, which became the War Department. Of the four agencies, only one managed the creation of roads- the War Department. The military was used to murder and displace the indigenous in the way of those roads and all of the projects that cronies of government profit from. The War Department also oversaw Indian Agents who were responsible for the genocidal crime against humanity, of facilitating the murder and displacement of the natives. They also reported on the area’s resources and conditions.

Timeline – 1822 to 1850

1822 – The first agent of domestic war was placed in the Superior region.
1824 – The Bureau (or Office) of Indian Affairs (BIA/OIA) was created within the War Department.
1830 – Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for indigenous lands within state borders. This directly resulted in the Trail of Tears, and many other crimes against humanity. Many indigenous, including the Ojibwa, resisted this coercive and forceful displacement.
1840s – Subagent in Mackinac, Henry R. Schoolcraft, was acting superintendent of Michigan, and his geology reports to state congress set off the UP Copper Rush. After the report, the push to remove the Ojibwa from their homes dramatically increased.
1849 – Office of Indian Affairs was transferred to the Department of the Interior to treat indigenous as a domestic affair rather than a military one.
1849 – A newly formed Minnesota Territory legislature passed a resolution favoring the revocation of usufructuary rights of the Ojibwa on lands they ceded in 1837 and 1842. Indian Commissioner Orlando Brown recommended to President Taylor that he follow suite. (Wex Law defines Usufructuary Rights as “the right to use and benefit from a property…the ownership of which belongs to another person.”).
Feb 6, 1850 – President Taylor’s executive order revoked usufructuary rights for all Ojibwa in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP of Michigan, and ordered their removal to unceded lands in Minnesota. Reasons given included to avoid “injurious contact” with european settlers, that their lands were “ample facilities for producing ardent spirits,” Europeans needed relief from the “annoyance” and “evils” of having the indigenous as neighbors, and pushing them into confinement together would lead to their “civilization and prosperity.”

The Wisconsin Death March

Our existence is resistance.” – CulturalSurvival.Org

The majority of the settler populations of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the UP were opposed to the relocation of the Ojibwa, launching vigorous lobbying campaigns, and directly supporting their resistance to the removal order. Unconcerned, federal officials coerced Ojibwa removal, for example by withdrawal of federal funds to native missionary schools in Wisconsin, breaking the spirit of missionaries who supported the resistance. What happened next has become known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy or the Wisconsin Death March, and it was no accident. It was a cruel and inhumane story of coercion resulting in death. It was murder, a crime for which there has been no justice.

In 1850 Michigan Governor Alexander Ramsey, La Pointe subagent John Watrous, Commissioner Orlando Brown, and Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing, actively conspired to lure the Ojibwa to Minnesota from northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s UP, and to leave them for dead. They moved the site for the yearly annuity payments from La Pointe to Sandy Lake on the east bank of the Upper Mississippi River, a location that was three to five hundred canoe and portage miles from the various Ojibwa villages in Wisconsin. They refused to provide services required under the 1837 and 1842 treaties at any location other than at Sandy Lake.

The Ojibwa went to Sandy Lake and waited six weeks for the arrival of their subagent, only to discover that he had come empty-handed. Trapped in Minnesota in winter, the Ojibwa suffered what Governor Ramsey conceded was “a distressing mortality.” Witnesses reported four hundred Ojibwa, mostly able-bodied men, died from illness, hunger, and exposure; 170 died at sandy Lake and another 230 died on the return trip. Graves were seen in every direction, for miles from Sandy Lake.

Indian Commissioner Luke Lea, in his annual report of November 27, 1850, claimed he removed the Ojibwa to save them from “injurious contact” with whiskey peddlers and the like and to prevent them from suffering “destitution and want” in Wisconsin as the game they depended on would become exhausted. Clearly, the game in Wisconsin is to this day plentiful, and they were destitute and in want by the end of 1850 precisely because Commissioner Lea lured them to Sandy Lake.

Governor Ramsey wrote a long defense of his actions to Lea. His words added insult to the grave injury the Ojibwa had suffered:

Far from famine or starvation ensuing from any negligence on the part of Government officers…the Chippewas received all that Government was under treaty obligations to furnish them, except their money; and this, as everyone is aware, who is at all familiar with the thriftless habits of the Indians, and the fatal facility with which they incur debts whenever opportunity presents, is usually all of it…

Subagent Watrous shamelessly admitted a “great mortality” had occurred as a result of the circumstances surrounding the annuity payment, and reported that the Ojibwa referred to Sandy Lake as a “grave yard.” They had “a particular dread and horror for the place.”

In August of 1851 Commissioner Lea announced the suspension of the removal order. According to a recent study of the incident, “the Ewing-Brown-Ramsey-Watrous plan to lure the Ojibwa west and trap them there successfully removed some twelve percent, by killing them.” The tragic loss of such a large number of people weakened the tribal bands. Many of their able-bodied men had died. They had also lost key equipment- their canoes, as well as valuable time that could have been devoted to survival and economic activities.

Desperate, the Ojibawa traded their year’s annuity claims for spoiled food and other shoddy provisions merchants sold at highly inflated prices. As winter set in, many Indians burned their canoes for firewood and returned to Wisconsin carrying their belongings on their backs. The tragic events associated with Sandy Lake strengthened the resolve of the leaders of the Ojibwa to resist all efforts to remove them to Minnesota.

Sympathetic eastern newspapers reprinted articles from Great Lakes newspapers accusing Agent Watrous of perpetrating an “iniquitous scheme” to remove the Indians against the wishes of “the entire population of the Lake Superior country.” (New York Times, 1851)

…in the case of the Chippewa. They occupy a remote portion of the country…that would not, in all probability, have been settled for a hundred years to come, had it not been for the rich deposits of minerals lately discovered in its rocky hills. From time immemorial this people have occupied the northern region…causing little or no trouble to the United States or their neighbors…They can live comfortably where they now are, but they will starve to death, as hundreds did last winter, in the miserable region {in Minnesota} to which the Government would remove them.” (Sault Ste. Marie Lake Superior News and Mining Journal, 1851) [*emphasis added]

In spite of positive public reaction to Commissioner Lea’s temporary suspension of the removal order, Governor Ramsey and the newly promoted Agent Watrous continued their genocidal efforts. They refused to pay annuity payments and educational funds anywhere but Minnesota. Watrous recommended that a company of infantry be dispatched to La Pointe to assist in promoting “a general removal.” Ramsey informed Washington officials that the best way to handle “stragglers” in the Wisconsin area was to follow “a rigid adherence…to the rule of paying annuities to those only who remove to, and remain in, their proper country.”

In November of 1851, Lea suggested the violent state “concentrate” the Ojibwa west of Mississippi. He claimed the food they hunted wouldn’t last long enough for them, and that they should move for their own survival. Again, to this day there is enough food for their survival in the UP and Wisconsin.

In 1852 Chief Buffalo of La Pointe (then in his 90s) and 28 other chiefs petitioned Agent Watrous to honor the agreement made to allow his people to live on their lands. In the Spring of 1852 Chief Buffalo and tribal members made a long journey to Washington to speak in Congress but were sent away for lack of an invitation. They met Whig Congressman George Briggs and ate dinner at his residence. Chief Buffalo appealed to him to keep his promise. He reminded Briggs that the Ojibwa had “at all times acted in obedience” and “lead a quiet and peaceful life.”

Chief Buffalo’s wisdom demonstrates his sharp mind, even in old age, and speaks to the criminality of American cronyism. He said:

Is it not the obligation of white men to fulfill their contracts…And should they not fulfill them, their contracts become null & void…consequently a misunderstanding exists, which can and ought to be adjusted to the mutual satisfaction of the parties concerned.

Buffalo concluded his remarks with a plea for “justice.” Later, he was able to meet with President Fillmore in the White House, and the removal order was rescinded since the President “recognized some of the signatures of leading citizens of the Great Lakes region.” Ultimately, the Ojibwa ceded the rich mineral lands along the shore of Lake Superior after American officials promised to establish permanent reservations. The precarious economic position of the reservation indigenous made them vulnerable to the BIA’s predatory educational and assistance programs, which were designed to promote acculturation and subjugation.

From the ratification of the 1854 treaty until the turn of the century, the Ojibwa tried repeatedly to convince American officials to honor the financial provisions of their treaties. They especially complained about overdue annuity payments and funds owed them as a result of the federal government’s use during the Civil War of inflated paper currency instead of the hard coin required by the treaties. They persisted in their efforts to secure their overdue funds, but no officials would listen.

Timeline – 1870 to 1966
1870s – US Colonel Forsyth agreed with General Bryant that natives should be “penned up on their reservations” and said he’d recommend to the BIA that they do that and drive them “by all political measures into industrial pursuits.” He claimed natives were “clinging” to such “lazy habits of Indian life” as hunting, fishing, and gathering off-reservation on ceded lands. The BIA and settlers increasingly undermined Ojibwa usufructuary rights during the ensuing decades.

1887 –The Dawes Act was passed which was designed to “civilize” the indigenous, transforming them into capitalistic farmers through programs of coercive education and social control. It converted communal tribal property into individually owned lands and was intended to isolate individuals from the tribal community so that they could be assimilated into european society.
1892 – Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs examined the records of the U.S. Treasury Department discovered that the federal government still owed the Ojibwa more than ninety-two thousand dollars. A modern examination of the federal statute books for the 1890s led historian Edmund Danziger Jr. to conclude that Congress never appropriated funds to pay it.
1934 – The Indian Reorganization Act reversed individual allotments, and imposed city-counsel style governments on tribes. Many opposed the ‘Indian New Deal’ as a further means to assimilation of indigenous culture, to an Anglo-American style of government.
1966 – Attorney General Bronson C. La Follette declared treaty rights were still in force on reservations and that the state’s conservation laws only applied to the Ojibwa when they were outside the boundaries of their reservations.
1975 – Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act – removed the BIA as a middle-man in financing of tribe assets, allowing tribes to prioritize and request funds from the federal government directly, while maintaining a relationship of dependency and subjugation.
Today – the BIA continues to serve as the main point of contact between the U.S. federal government and the 574 federally recognized tribes. Its responsibilities include management of all tribal land, water, timber, minerals, and more. It oversees a network of schools, infrastructure projects, social services, and “assists” tribes in their “self-government” efforts.

Through its war with the Ojibwa, the United States now keeps vast resources. According to historian David R. Wrone, these include 19 million acres of land, 100 billion board-feet of timber, and 13.5 billion pounds of copper, in addition to water, ports, power sites, quarries, and a “cornucopic treasure” of fish, fowl, and game. In return, the Ojibwa received “only a few thousand dollars, some odds and ends of equipment, and a few thousand acres of reservation lands.” They did reserve their rights of hunting, fishing, and gathering as well as the “other usual privileges of occupancy” on ceded territory. However, state officials prevented them from exercising those rights for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. In doing so, the state promoted a consistent pattern of violent natural resource exploitation that benefited government cronies at the expense of human life. Several economists have openly called for the payment of an “exploitation premium” for the as yet uncompensated taking of Ojibwa usufructuary rights.


In Anishinaabe culture, ogemaag (leaders) do not make decisions for their community without a full consensus.” CulturalSurvival.Org

If the above quote is accurate, the dozen or so Ojibwa who signed deals with the federal government, in desperation and against the wishes of the many resisters in their own camps, couldn’t have possibly represented their people legally.

I reject the notion that the Ojibwa have ever been properly represented in American government.

I reject the notion that private property is ethically regulated by government officials who’ve used methods of war to deprive rightful owners of it.

I reject the notion of usufructuary rights being applied to the indigenous, because in fact they did own all of the Superior lands by their possession of them, before european settlers and government came and robbed them of it. They should get all of their ancient lands back, an exploitation premium, and total freedom to forge an independent nation of their own. Anything less amounts to a continuing act of war.

Indigenous people today are left without justice or liberty in the lands their people have lived on for thousands of years. Now that the native copper is all taken, you’d think the state of Michigan and the US federal government would have no further use for the people of the UP, but of course there is still silver and gold, palladium and uranium, and other mineral resources here. There are lands that afford space for oil pipelines, sea planes to land, missile launch pads, vacation spots, and military research in universities.

As one specific example, when this author applied with the Michigan Technological University’s (MTU’s) chemistry department in 2019, he found they had 20-year-old students making new TNT chemistry for military research. The students were working under the supervision of an Italian woman who admitted having no US citizenship. The students of course thought they were doing neat things, playing with computer models. Of course, the government has much use for unwitting people, but of course to use people as a means to some end is unethical and immoral.

Another example is the government’s abhorrent, repeated use of native schools to commit genocide.

To this day, the Canadian government has a record of forced sterilization of indigenous women:

Thousands of Indigenous Canadian women over the past seven decades were coercively sterilized, in line with eugenics legislation that deemed them inferior.” (CTV News, July 12, 2023)

Yet another example was the pressure the US government put on natives such as Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, which processed payments of $2,000 per tribal member for receiving the rushed and experimental coronavirus vaccine. This history of unethical medical experimentation on indigenous peoples is an atrocity worthy of attention, as it is one which repeats itself.

Now there is a world war at our doors, which our own government evidently fomented, and which only benefits the weapons manufacturers, investor, and donor classes. War does not benefit the indigenous or the majority of individuals that would be forced or coerced into fighting and dying in it.

It is time for all individuals everywhere to cast off the shackles imposed by violence, and to practice self-determination and peaceful resistance. If communities work together at all levels they can drive liberty and security from themselves, and their homes, outward. If any place does not have consensus, forcing the minority to do the will of the majority is unethical, especially in cases where much uncertainty exists.

In this story, the murderers in the US federal government adopted the Ojibwa like children, by force. According to Ojibwa customs, if a murderer repents, they may be adopted by decision of the family. The murderous government here has not repented and has kidnapped the indigenous into its own abusive family. So, the violent US government should be exiled from all indigenous lands. To do any less amounts to advocating for a beaten woman to stay with an abusive husband. Anyone who knows about abusive relationships knows some percentage of women end up murdered by such abusers. Like such women, the Ojibwa need a way out before it is too late. Like the Ojibwa, all individuals on earth need a way out of their relationship with the violent State.


Since time immemorial the Ojibwa and Anishinaabe people have lived in the Superior region. They were not strangers to war, but desired lives of peace, and they suffered greatly for every trust they placed in their governmental representatives. They were weakened, subjugated, managed like children, and lorded over, and have not seen liberty or justice at least since federalism was born in America- a federalism that promised liberty and justice for all. They are just like the rest of us, common citizens. If the BIA wants to actually ensure autonomy for tribes, as it claims, it should abolish itself. If the US federal government wants to ensure liberty and justice for all, it should do the same.

*Article was featured in the November 2023 Michigan Libertarian newsletter.

Scroll to Top