Remembering Norman Deschampe – a legacy of building partnerships

Photo at left courtesy NPS/Grand Portage National Monument. Photo at right via boreal.org.

Norman Deschampe, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal Council Chairman of 27 years, died on February 9, 2019 at age 65. A lifelong resident of Grand Portage, he served on the Grand Portage Tribal Council starting at age 23. He was also serving on the executive committee of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Deschampe oversaw a period of great economic growth and community engagement, including the opening of Gitchi Onigaming Community Center and countless improvements to Grand Portage’s employment, education, health care, and housing opportunities.

“He was a family man (who) loved his daughters and supported them in their endeavors,” said Marie Spry, now interim chair of the Grand Portage Tribal Council, told the Duluth News-Tribune. “He taught his four daughters to hunt, fish and trap. He was an avid subsistence hunter. . . . He saw many changes here on the reservation and was always trying to make things better for the people here.”

His love of the outdoors translated into a strong defense of Minnesota’s natural resources. Through his work as Council Chairman and as an ex-officio member of the Minnesota DNR’s Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Board, he worked to fight the damage invasive species caused to the Grand Portage community’s traditions such as fishing and harvesting sweetgrass and wild rice.

“The biological damage caused by invasive species is incalculable in economic terms,” Deschampe wrote to Brad Moore, then Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner, in 2008. “Past damage to stocks of native species of cultural and present-day value to Indians has been felt for decades.”

In February 2014, he wrote again to the MPCA, this time on the behalf of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe urging MPCA commissioner John Linc Stine to continue protections for Minnesota’s wild rice producing waters.

“ … waters used for the production of wild rice … must remain on the wild rice waters lists for regulatory purposes,” he wrote. “They cannot be pulled off and dropped instead onto the proposed watch list.”

Deschampe was integral in creating co-management of the Grand Portage National Monument between the Grand Portage Band and the National Park Service in 1999, the Grand Portage National Monument called it a “one-of-a-kind partnership.”

“Two decades ago, Norman envisioned the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the National Park Service working in partnership because, in his own words: ‘We have the best little park in the country,’” the Grand Portage National Monument wrote.

His legacy of building partnerships stretches far beyond the small community of Grand Portage. His generous support of the greater Cook County community allowed ideas such as WTIP North Shore Radio and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce to become true community resources. During Deschampe’s decades as chairman, the Grand Portage Band provided unparalleled support of community events from sled dog races to emergency services conferences and much more. In 2013, the Cook County Chamber of Commerce presented Norman with a leadership award for “decades of extraordinary personal service to enhancing the economic vitality, and cultural and political integrity of his community.”

On February 11, Grand Marais Mayor Jay Arrowsmith-Decoux made an official proclamation that February 26, 2019, which would have been Deschampe’s 66th birthday, will be “Norman Deschampe Day” in the City of Grand Marais. In proclamation, Arrowsmith-Decoux wrote that Deschampe “promoted the understanding of traditional practices, preservation of culture, and stewardship of natural resources” and that “the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Kitchi-Onigaming) is an essential neighbor and partner to the City of Grand Marais, whose relationship is strong thanks to the life and example of Norman Deschampe.”

As Cook County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Boyd wrote in a letter to the Cook County community on February 11, “No one is indispensable. But Norman comes close.”


More about co-management of Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage: a model of cooperation

Interviews with Norman Deschampe on Ampers.org

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