While visiting the Mille Lacs Lake area, we stopped by the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to learn more about the history of the area and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who are believed to have settled in the region in the 1700s.
With a combination of beautiful exhibits, interactive displays, learning stations, and educational information, the museum provides a view into the history and lives of the Ojibwe people, and, next door, the Trading Post sells handcrafted American Indian arts and crafts.
History of the museum
Built in 1996, the museum is one of 26 Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums and is located on the southwest shore of Mille Lacs Lake near Onamia, Minnesota.
The museum resides on the former property of Harry and Jeanette Ayers who began renting cabins on the grounds in the early 1920s. By the late 1930s, the Ayers were running a full resort business with cabins, boats, a trading post, a gas station, and even a boat factory and maple syrup refinery.
Avid collectors of American Indian artifacts, art, and memorabilia, the Ayers amassed a vast collection over their years of procuring items for the Trading Post. In 1959, they donated their collection, the buildings, and the land to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The donated buildings and collections served as the museum until 1996 when the current building was built as a result of a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Visiting the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Visitors to the museum are treated to a wide variety of displays and exhibits, including hands-on activities for children.
Exploring the spacious 22,810-square-foot museum, visitors learn the story of the Ojibwe people, from what their lives were like when they settled in the area to present-day culture.
Many exhibits incorporate both the Ojibwe language and English in their descriptions and provide a glimpse into life on the reservation. We were fortunate to tour the museum with Travis Zimmerman, a descendant of the Ojibwe who is Site Manager of the museum.
Popular for school field trips, Travis pointed out that the museum provides a wide view of Indian history, accentuating the similarities, not the differences, in the tribes, customs, foods, music, and games.
The jewel of the museum, the Four Seasons Room contains beautifully designed dioramas with life-size figures that depict the life of Ojibwe people throughout the changing seasonal activities.
From depictions of harvesting wild rice in the autumn to making maple syrup to hunting and berry picking, the exhibits are exceptional.
While the dioramas date back to 1964 in the previous version of the museum, the life-sized mannequins were added in 1972.
Travis explained that casts of actual tribe members were used to create the figures. Imagine how amazing it must be for the children and grandchildren of those members when they visit the museum to see depictions of their parents and grandparents from decades before.
The Trading Post
The Trading Post is located next to the museum and offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Home to an amazing assortment of artists’ works, the Trading Post’s items include beads, books, blankets, moccasins, birch bark products, paintings, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, dream catchers, and more.
In addition to the items for sale, an exhibit area can be found just inside the entrance with historical items from the Trading Post and those who have visited for nearly a century.
Know before you go
- The museum and trading post are located at 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, MN 56359
- Check the museum website for hours and admission fees.
- Allow at least an hour to tour the museum and visit the trading post.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, the Minnesota Historical Society, and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are based only on our assessment and we accept no responsibility for how the information is used. We do not accept paid posts although some posts may contain information regarding businesses where we have previously been compensated.