Native Americans in Duluth

Long before European settlement—perhaps thousands of years—the head of the lakes was home to several Native American tribes. When the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe opened what is now Duluth for settlement, the Ojibwe had already forced the Dakota west and had established settlements at Spirit Island, Spirit Mountain, Indian Point, Rice’s Point, and Minnesota Point.

The treaty ceded all of what would become Duluth except for 682 acres negotiated by Chief Buffalo to serve as a a reservation. He chose land in the heart of Duluth, known later as the “Buffalo Tract,” which included an existing Indian village and burial grounds on Rice’s Point that Chief Buffalo wanted to protect. But within two years Benjamin G. Armstrong wrestled the tract from Buffalo. The land was subdivided and sold time and time again, and no Ojibwe reservation developed in Duluth.

Until the late 1860s, more Ojibwe lived in Duluth than Europeans. As new settlers arrived, the natives were pushed aside. Although they lived peacefully among the settlers, the Ojibwe were often feared by those of European descent, an attitude fueled primarily by the media’s portrayal of Native Americans as savages. They were further marginalized by whites who refused to hire Native Americans for even the most basic labor. Instead they recruited European immigrants.

The Ojibwe population declined dramatically over the years, as many relocated to reservations or became assimilated by marriage. By 1928 Duluth held fewer than two-hundred Native Americans. That number would slowly increase, to 402 in 1960, 615 in 1970, 1,344 in 1980. The 2010 census showed 2,134 Native Americans living in Duluth.