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DNR, Menominee Nation return nearly 100 sturgeon to Wolf River ahead of Feast Pow Wow

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Posted at 9:36 PM, Apr 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 13:28:14-04

KESHENA, Wis. (NBC 26) — For the Menominee people, the sturgeon is more than just a fish. Joey Awonohopay says they're part of the tribal culture.

But in the 1890s, the population started dropping.

"Little by little, the sturgeon [were] being less and less in riverways due to the dams that were built south of us," the Language and Culture Department director said.

Historically, the tribe has harvested them in the spring after a long winter. So in 1992, the state agreed to help carry on a tradition.

"Now, we're getting the void back and we're bringing the songs back," Awonohopay said. "We're bringing the prayers back."

The Department of Natural Resources brought around 100 sturgeon to release into the Chickeney Creek.

"Culturally speaking, this is our New Year when the sturgeon return," Awonohopay said.

The hope is to return them to their ancestral spawning grounds on the Wolf River at Keshena Falls.

"We've always been associated with waterways," Awonohopay said. "We're historically a water people. We've always used our canoes and the waterway for our traveling."

Now every spring, the DNR delivers the sturgeon to the Menominee Nation. And before this weekend, 12 have been set aside.

"They'll be prepared and prayed over, over these next four days until we get into Saturday," Awonohopay said.

That's when the first Sturgeon Feast Pow Wow in two years will take place. It includes a sacred walk and meal to celebrate the fish.

"Community members and school kids and a lot of people come to this, and happy to have it back," Historic Preservation Officer David Grignon said.

Last year, the tribe used six sturgeon for curbside pickup meals. But members say it isn't the same as the celebration that's been going on for thousands of years.

"We just want them there because we're so happy that they're back amongst us," Grignon said.