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A thriving fur trade would soon flourish at the juncture of Superior's banks and the start of Grand Portage, where the trail from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River winds through volcano-scarred cliffs, dense forests, and a 120-foot-high waterfall aptly called High Falls.
But now at the little-known Grand Portage National Monument, the Park Service is reversing the direction of that legacy through a unique agreement.
Negotiated under a law known as the Indian Self-Governance Act, the agreement makes the Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewa Indians a partner in operating the park.
In 1958 the Grand Portage Band donated land inside its reservation, just seven miles from the Canadian border in the far northeastern tip of the state, to establish the site.
When the tribe donated the land, its members hoped that the new park unit, complete with a visitor center and museum, would revitalize the reservation's struggling economy and bring jobs to Grand Portage.
But soon after Grand Portage was created, the federal government dramatically reversed its stance toward Indian tribal authority.
On the 18th I found that it would be impossible to get along the Beaver River; many parts of it not even having the appearance of moisture; we had now got to go where an Indian Winter Track strikes off to the Northward and falls on Lake la Biche after passing several lakes and Portages.
Although both portages provided a link between the Athabasca and Churchill River systems, they were used for different purposes.
It was renowned explorer and geographer, David Thompson of the NWCo, who in 1798 discovered the carry over this height of land which later became known as Portage La Biche.
Moving on, they arrived at the south end of portage on October 3, 1798.
Portage La Biche is the link between the Churchill basin, which eventually drains into Hudson Bay, and the Athabasca-Mackenzie basin, which empties into the Arctic Ocean.
A first hand description of a journey over Portage La Biche was provided by Ross Cox in 1817 while travelling from the Pacific coast to Montreal.