Northwoods Memories Multimedia Productions


Archive for August, 2009

Should we publish pictograph information?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
submitted by: Bob Evans

A little over four years ago, we began developing the ideas for publishing the Northwoods Pictograph bulletins.  In considering the project we were motivated by our long-lasting interest in the history and culture of the Ojibwa in the area that we loved to paddle.  Over and over, in conversations with people we met on the trail, or visited on-line, or talked with in various outfitter locations, we heard that paddlers had difficulty finding the sites.  Sometimes, paddlers had heard of sites but those sites were not listed on the maps.  Paddlers often commented that printed materials about the sites were inaccurate and, after following the directions, they found no site as described by those materials.  And nearly all who expressed an interest in the sites wanted to know more about the history and meaning of the images.

Many individuals report that the Ojibwa do not want photographs taken of the sites and images.  Early in the design of this site, we attempted to contact two Ojibwa elders for whom we had email addresses.  We were disappointed that we did not get replies.  Additionally, as many know, some rangers at the entry points tell paddlers that the Ojibwa do not want pictures taken at all. 

Our most valuable insight came from personal conversations with Jon Nelson (, a long time ranger in Quetico.  He worked for some years under grant funding, visiting with the Ojibwa elders to learn the basis of their religious beliefs and cultural practices.  He recently published a wonderful book, “Quetico:  Near to Nature’s Heart.”  In that book he also states what we learned from personal conversations with him.  He told me in those conversations that the elders were not so much against taking pictures of the sites, but that they were very much offended by paddlers disrespecting the sites.  He explained that the elders objected to those who would paddle to the sites, and while laughing and joking, take a couple of pictures just to say they were there.  He indicated that the elders did not object to those who were appropriately respectful of the sites and the religious beliefs they represent.

Additionally, he told me that the Ojibwa regard the messages in the images as prayers.  He also states this in the book.  Obviously, respect is due to these sites and their images.  To disrespect them is to disrespect the people to whom they are sacred.

With that in mind, and after a lot of soul-searching, we began the project by looking at the many pictures we had taken in the past and by reviewing our notes from our many visits to sites.  Though we had read many writings on the sites and on pictographs in general, we began again an intensive study of the culture and religion important to the Ojibwa.  We also committed to revisiting every site visited in the past and visiting those not visited in the past, to ensure that our notes and reports were as accurate as we could make them.  We vowed not to compile any information on any site until we had revisited or visited the site during the three year period of the Quetico Quest.  No bulletin would be printed with any information not based on our personal obversations at the site.

With that in mind, we began the project with the most important goals being to answer those questions that we had heard so often.  We wanted to be able to help the paddler interested in Ojibwa pictographs easily find the sites and the images.  Additionally we wanted to study as much as we could, and provide information on the relation of the images to the religion and culture of the people who left them behind.  And finally, we wanted to help paddlers learn from the experience.  From this came the admonition printed on our bulletins:  “Visit the sites!  Respect the sites!  Learn at the sites!’

We hope to help many paddlers visit, respect and learn.  We sincerely hope that every paddler who visits the sites using our bulletins,  will, above all else, not contribute in any way to damaging the sites.