Little Spirt Cedar

Little Spirit Cedar

The year was likely 2003; the place Brewhouse…college. The golden age of micro brewing brought the fragrant amber liquid to my taste buds; little did I know the aptly named beverage would play such an intriguing role in my continual Up North cannon of memories. Witch Tree Amber was only the first of many sips into the mystic countenance of North-Eastern Minnesota’s native history.

My first attempt to visit the fabled tree of lore wasn’t without consequence. For with the brashness of youth also comes less admirable characteristics, and with much future regret thereafter, my journey brought me to the tree unprepared and without a guide. A freshly graduated photography student, the image alone was the goal. Although predating the days of social media influence, it was the same ego driven pursuit for which I crossed the tobacco offerings and photographed the sacred tree. Throwing tradition, integrity, and respect to the wayside, I photographed the sacred tree, leaving with a feeling of accomplishment in capturing a sort of forbidden fruit. The revery wouldn’t last however, for soon after the images would vanish from my computer, uncertain to this day how.

  • Tree growing from rock/brutish conditions/longevity a metaphor for the Ojibwe people’s plight

  • Offerings of tobacco left to bless voyage to fishing/hunting grounds of superior and Isle Royale. Symbol of prosperity to this day with local members leaving gifts to this day

  • Must be escorted by local Ojibwe guide. Gain access through Grand Portage national Monument

  • Scientific name: Thuja Occidentalis (conifer)

  • Ojibwe name: Manidoo-Giizhikens (Little Spirit Cedar)

  • Personal Story…Karmic response to unguided visit in 2010. Lost all photographs.

  • Description of walk, hearing the history from a tribal member (John), sights, sounds

  • French Explorers and fur trade?

The Witch Tree as it is commonly known, also called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree by the Ojibwa Indian tribe is an ancient Thuja occidentalis growing on the shore of Lake Superior in Cook CountyMinnesota. The earliest written records of the tree by Europeans in the Americas are by French explorer Sieur de la Verendrye in 1731, who commented on the tree as a mature tree at that time, making it over 300 years old.[1] The tree is held sacred by the Ojibwe, who traditionally leave offerings of tobacco to ensure a safe journey on Lake Superior. Due to its sacred nature and vandalism problems in the past, the tree is considered off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member.

The tree is small for a mature conifer, as it is growing out of bare rock on the shoreline. Its gnarled, stunted, and twisting branches have been the subject of many photographs.

The image above was created with personal permission and escort from a Anishinabe elder, admittance was granted and the history laid upon me. It’s seemingly difficult for people to understand the importance native folklore had in shaping the cultural and environmental landscape of the area, but standing on the rocky banks of the largest fresh water lake in the world, a sense of time and place washes over the soul, much like waves against the shore. A whispering of the past


For more information regarding the Little Spirit Cedar, MN Ojibwe History, or to book a guide consider the below resources:


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