Mushkooub Aubid: Passing of a Great Leader

Winona LaDuke

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 l990, discussing the repatriation of  Egiwaateshkang, aka. George Aubid by his son Mushkooub. Mushkooub 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. This month’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 February 7 and was pronounced dead at Cloquet Memorial Hospital. His body was taken to the medical school at UMD, where an autopsy was set for Tuesday, long after the traditional practice would allow.   “We just want to prepare his body for his journey to the next world,” his widow, Winnie LaPrairie, 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 l837 and l855 would recognize that the Ojibwe are a nation which has signed peace and friendship treaties, with the US.  Mushkooub joined with many other Native people to take over of the BIA building in Washington DC in 1972 , the liberation of Wounded Knee in l973, 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-  former Mille Lacs Band Education Director, championship ricer, bringing in 650 pounds of rice in one day, 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 members were arrested for gillnetting and selling of fish off the Leech Lake Reservation ), the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals 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 l855 treaty , the Commission  which Mushkooub Aubid chaired. 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 l60 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  explains .


 Bibeau adds, “It is apparent the state was more interested in spending 3 years and $100,000s 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 (based in one of the world’s largest mining empires’- the British Virgin Islands) 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 , the night of the wake, as the hotel was filled with drilling contractors.

 Geologists estimate more than 10 million tons of mineable ore below.  Copper mining, relatively low on returns, per amount of earth disturbed.  The recovery ratio for copper is 0.16%, much smaller than the average for other metals (4.5%). In other words, you need to remove 1,000,000,000 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, essentially to get past the strict regulations which protect wild rice, sacred to the Anishinaabeg, and the state grain. 

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 by some Minnesota legislators (  Senators Tomassoni, Saxhaug, Bakk and Ingebrigtsen) introduced--S.F. No. 868    SF 868 would   override state regulations regarding sulfuric acid …. “prohibiting the application of wild rice water quality standards..”. Minnesota’s water quality rule limiting sulfates to 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in wild rice waters 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 twenty five 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.”

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 which are known to damage the ecosystem.  What Mushkooub stood for is to be Anishinaabeg, and perhaps his father’s words of thirty 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