Heritage center’s collaboration saves eagles’ nest

By John Lundy
Duluth, Minnesota (AP) June 2010

When Rose Berens is driving and sees an eagle flying, she normally stops and puts out tobacco.

Tobacco is a medium for prayer, said Berens, who is executive director of the Bois Forte Herit age Center on Lake Vermilion. And eagles, for the Bois Forte as well as all American Indians, carry powerful spiritual connotations.

“All native people have a special relationship with the eagle,” Berens said. “We believe the Creator gave the eagle the responsibility of seeing the farthest and flying the highest. It’s the boss bird.”

So when the heritage center had the chance to display an eagles’ nest, it seemed like a natural fit. It also represents an unusual partnership among the tribe, a mining company and a federal agency.

The nest will be dedicated soon at the heritage center, which is on the grounds of the Fortune Bay Resort, Casino and Golf Course. The event will include a traditional Bois Forte ceremony with drums and singers. Also, Bucky Flores of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., will be on hand with an adult bald eagle. The center’s eagles have been injured in the wild and rehabilitated but wouldn’t be able to survive back in the wild. Flores said people won’t be able to touch the eagle but will get a close look.

“We call it a nose-to-beak experience,” he said.

People will get a good view of the nest as well: It’s 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 10 to 12 feet off the ground, Berens said. You won’t be able to peek inside, though. Plans to build a viewing platform were dropped for liability reasons.

The nest’s presence resulted from what Berens calls “a wonderful collaboration.”

Minorca mining was expanding in 2008 and planned to raise the water level of its basin near Virginia, said Kevin Leecy, Bois Forte Tribal chairman. Mining officials spotted an eagle’s nest in a poplar tree next to the pit and knew the higher water would destroy the tree.

Jonathan Holmes, a vice president for the company, said they contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bois Forte to find the best way to relocate the nest, which wasn’t being used by eagles at the time. In November, Fish and Wildlife service personnel, Bois Forte Tribal members and mining company employees cut the tree 4 feet below the nest and 2 feet above it. They moved it, nest and all, to the heritage center, where they attached it to a poplar post with the same circumference as the original tree.

The dedication was delayed until now so landscaping could be done, Berens said. The outdoor display was configured in a “diamond shape so it faces east. The Bois Forte people come from the East. We came from the East Coast, so all of our movement is from east to west.”

Leecy commended the mine company for reaching out to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bois Forte.

“(The nest) serves a purpose rather than being lost,” he said. “The U.S. government and the Bois Forte government both hold the eagle in high esteem. It has a central role in Native American history and culture. It’s a symbol of freedom, of strength, of everything that a government can be for its people.”