Manido Gizhigans, which is translated into English as Spirit Little Cedar Tree or commonly known as the Witch Tree, is a white cedar tree seemly growing out of a rock. It’s located on Lake Superior near Grand Portage. It is over 300 years old. Paddlers should leave a pinch of tobacco as an offering to help protect them on long journeys on Lake Superior.
One of the stories of the Witch Tree that I’ve read suggests the tree was a woman who had a vision and found her way to Hat Point to serve as a lookout for a change (white man) that was coming via Superior. That story struck a cord with me, because when I look at the tree it seems to be serving as a lookout. (From Northern Lites: A Fireside Reading Companion (Mysteries & Horror).)
Several times, I’ve paddled out to the Witch Tree on my way to the Susie Islands. The Susies are 13 rocky islands mainly owned by the Grand Portage Reservation, but also by the Nature Conservancy. On the Nature Conservancy’s island, there’s rumored to be an interesting old mine. Paddling past the islands is one of the most exciting trips on the MN north shore. A one-way 15-mile paddle will take experts from the Fort at Grand Portage around Hat Point through the Susies and around Pigeon Point to a take just the US side of the US/Canadian border. A hard but short portage at “The Narrows” allows Pigeon Point to be skipped.
Wikipedia’s short entry on the tree:
The Witch Tree as it is commonly known, also called Manido Giizhigance, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree by the Ojibwa Indian tribe is an ancient Thuja occidentalis growing on the shore of Lake Superior in Cook County, Minnesota. The earliest written records of the tree by Europeans in the Americas are by French explorer Sieur de la Verendrye in 1731, who commented on the tree as a mature tree at that time, making it at least 300 years old today. The tree is held sacred by the Ojibwe, who traditionally leave offerings of tobacco to ensure a safe journey on Lake Superior. Due to its sacred nature and vandalism problems in the past, the tree is considered off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member.
The tree is small for a mature conifer, as it is growing out of bare rock on the shoreline. Its gnarled, stunted, and twisting branches have been the subject of many photographs.
- Great Lakes National Program’s Visualize the Great Lakes has a picture of the Witch Tree.
- Travis Novitsky, a Grand Portage native, has photographed the tree extensively. His site is worth visiting.
- Some friends at the Wilderness Classroom visited the Witch Tree on one of their adventures.
PLEASE NOTE: Access to the Spirit Tree is restricted. The Grand Portage Reservation has closed the trail to public usage to help protect the tree. Access is only permitted by taking a guided tour with a naturalist from the Grand Portage Lodge.