Grand Portage is a sleepy, picturesque part of Northern Minnesota, only miles south of the Canadian border at the end of Highway 61.
The striking sight of Mount Rose overseeing the land. The crisp smell of pine and cedar that permeates the air. This is sovereign land of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
The COVID-19 pandemic closed the border of Grand Portage. Food prices are now raised. People lived day-to-day distanced from one another. Elders have food delivered to their homes. A cultural practice of caring for children and elders first.
Grand Portage enrolled band member Michele Hakala-Beeksma lives in Duluth. Living in full quarantine. She works from home or at the office when no one else is there. Michele has kept in touch using the U.S. mail and phone. Quarantine skills that many all over the world have re-discovered. “You don’t visit Elders through Pandemic. Yet, you call and check in with them, often,” quotes Michele Hakala-Beeksma.
We hear the voice of a Grand Portage Band Member and resident. Peter Gagnon, known only as “Moose Meat Pete.” Due to the lack of local commerce, he travels to other states for work. Moose Meat Pete returns to Grand Portage when he’s gathered enough equity saved for a nest egg. He is multitalented and has many skills acquired over the years from hard work.
In 2019, they traveled to Toppenish, Wash., Yakama Nation. They found work immediately, in construction. Rachel worked with him in construction and raised her son. Everything was going smooth in the direction of hard work and savings. An excellent five-year plan in place.
A pandemic called COVID-19 flashed across the TV screen. Social media beginning discussion. The very beginning of awareness for people to wear masks. They put on masks even when others didn’t.
They made a plan to go back to Minnesota. In Washington, they completed their last construction job and created a quality product. At the end of the job, it was the beginning of discussion of quarantine. Rachel packed their Minivan to the ceiling with the things they won’t leave behind.
In the meantime, Moose Meat Pete bought an airline ticket online. His plan was to go ahead of her to get the house ready. Basic utility services he shut off in their absence. Internet connection and make it a home once again. He did it for Jackson’s comfort as a six-year-old.
The changes going on and keeping a homeostatic environment for Jackson. A mother afraid of an unknown COVID-19 pandemic but making light of their drive. Making it a game instead. Jackson called it the “Zombie Apocalypse.”
“The lowest gas price was 1.48 per gallon,” quotes Rachel Puyette, Grand Portage resident.
Moose Meat Pete, at an Empty Seattle Airport. No one was working due to COVID-19, and he couldn’t get in. He slept on the floor for over 10 hours. Finally, someone came. He had bought the ticket online. They gave him a hand-written boarding ticket. The plane was empty, and with a discount coach ticket, Moose Meat Pete sat in Seat 1A in First Class.
He made it to Minneapolis and had a difficult time getting north. Usually, it’s easy to find a ride -- but people are quarantined. He walked a good part of Highway 61 from Minneapolis to Grand Portage. He found out in Duluth connecting his utilities that Grand Portage closed. Undaunted, he illegally walked to Grand Portage and entered the back side of Joes Road.
Moose Meat Pete, Rachel and Jackson are in voluntary quarantine after arriving home. This is a story from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Anishinaabe people showing endurance during this Historic time of COVID-19.
About the author
Phoebe Smith-Davis lives in Duluth. She has been a public radio announcer for more than 25 years, and is an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.