The Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony has cultural and spiritual significance for many First Nations and Métis communities, especially for their original caretakers: the peoples of Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and Lac La Croix First Nation. The preservation of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed and its story of survival against all-odds “marks a reclaiming of what was once the way of their grandparents and great-grandparents” (Native Report, 2013).
The Red Pony Stands® OjibwE Horse Sanctuary
"Horses were not introduced, necessarily, by the Spaniards; these are Indigenous horses that originated here. And I know the Spaniards introduced horses to the Plains Imdians and so forth, but we had Indugenos ponies that were here, and the Lac La Croix Ponies, that are Indigenous to this land." ~ Larry Aiken, Historian for Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe/Professor at Itasca Community College
“Hopefully, at some point, we can find some funding and repatriate our horses, our ponies, because they belong with us. And I think there is a spiritual connection there.” ~ Donald Chosa Jr., Cultural Coordinator at Bois Forte Band of Chippewa
The Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony breed was originally located at Nett Lake (Ojibwe: Asabiikone-zaaga`iganiing, meaning "At the Lake for Netting"), Lake Vermilion (Ojibwe: Onamanii-zaaga'iganiing, meaning "At the Lake with Red Ochre") in Northern Minnesota, and the Lac La Croix First Nations reserve in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. The ponies had been living with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe: Zagaakwaandagowininiwag, meaning "Men of the Thick Woods") since before the 1800’s.
February 17, 2018 -- Seven Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies (six ponies; one stallion and five, one of which was pregnant) from Alberta are repatriated and arrive at Lac La Croix First Nation for the first time since February of 1977.
Mar 2016 -- Six new Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies (three colts and three fillies named Doodem, Waaseyaa, Waa-migisago, Aazadi,
Mishkwiingwese, and Zhishiigwan,
respectively) travel from Sacred Way Sanctuary and arrive at TheRed Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary
Feb 2016 -- The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary establishes a not-for-profit partnership with Sacred Way Sanctuary in Florence, Alabama
Nov 2015 -- The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary was established as a not-for-profit corporation
Oct 2015 -- The first Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony (named Sagineshkawa meaning "Pleasure with my Arrival") comes to The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary
July 2014 -- Six Lac la Croix Indigenous Ponies (one stallion, two geldings, and three mares) arrive at Grey Raven Ranch in Seine River First Nation.
2004 -- The Lac La Croix Indian (now Indigenous) Pony Society was officially established
1999 -- A third breeding group was purchased
1996 -- A second breeding group was purchased
1993 -- Rare Breeds Canada launched a Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony repatriation project and one stallion and three mares (decedents of the original four mares) formed the first foundation breeding group
Early 1900s -- Rare Breeds Canada was contacted
Jan 1985 -- Nimkii, a black stallion, was born (one of the two Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony bloodlines)
Jan 1980 -- Keokuk, a black stallion, was born (the other of the two Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony bloodlines)
1977 -- The last four Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony mares were bred to a Spanish Mustang stallion to save the breed
Feb 1977 -- The last four Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony mares were rescued by five men and brought to Minnesota
Jan 1977 -- Canada's Health Department officials deemed the four Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony mares a "health threat" and made plans to destroy them
Early 1970s -- Four Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony mares remained and were turned loose in the wild to fend for themselves
1965-1967 -- The last Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony stallion was accidentally shot
1940s -- Missionaries came to Bois Forte Indian Reservation in Minnesota and destroyed the majority of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony herd
1934 -- Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies were still used by First Nations people for hauling
1800s and earlier -- Thousands of Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies resided on the Bois Forte Indian Reservation
1300s-1400s -- First Nations peoples migrating West from the Great Lakes discovered Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies, which were named or mishtatim or bebezhigooganzhii (Ojibwe for "big dog" or "one big toenail," respectively).
The Bois Forte traditional Elders recall a time there were thousands of ponies. These ponies were integral to First Nations peoples' spiritual healing and ways of life. According to Donald Chosa Jr., knowledge keeper and cultural coordinator at the Bois Forte Indian Reservation, the breed became endangered when the Missionaries came to the reservation in the 1940s. The Missionaries saw no use for the ponies and felt that it was inappropriate for the First Nations children to see the ponies breeding. As a result, the majority of the breed was destroyed (Native Report, 2013).
Despite this loss, a small herd survived and was kept on the Lac La Croix First Nation reserve. Before spring, the ponies were herded over the ice by Lac La Croix peoples onto an island called Pony Island. The ponies lived on the island during the summer, foaling and breeding and foraging for food. When winter returned, they were herded back to be used for hauling, logging, or other work until spring, and the cycle began again (Lynghaug, 2009; Bois Forte News, 2013).
By the 1960’s, the ponies had been allowed to wander free, living and foraging in the woods. Then a researcher and writer named Lester Bower accidently shot a young male pony, thinking it was a moose. This left a population of only seven ponies, including an old stallion that could no longer be bred.
By 1977, there were only four mares left on Lac La Croix First Nation. Canada's Health Department officials viewed the ponies as unwanted pets and deemed the ponies a "heath threat." It was only a matter of time before before the ponies would be destroyed. Aware of the ponies imminent demise, five men – Fred Isham (originally from Lac La Croix First Nations but lived on Bois Forte Indian Reservation), Wally Olson, Walter Saatela, Bob Walker, and Omar Hilde – decided to rescue the ponies in February of that year.
The men were able to capture and load the four mares on a trailer to travel across the frozen lake to Minnesota. The ponies were all in good health, but none of them were bred. According to the research at that time, the Lac La Croix Indigenous Ponies were believed to be descendants of the Spanish Mustang and Canadian Horse. But it was not until they settled into their new home in Minnesota that they were bred to a Spanish Mustang stallion, named Smokey, since no Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony stallions remained. With the introduction of a male line, the breed survived.
With individual breeding programs in place, the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony population is slowly growing.In 2013, there are only about 110 known ponies owned by individuals in scattered areas, with only 27 males and 49 females that could be used for breeding (Bois Forte News, 2013). Today, there is only an estimated 175-200 ponies in North America! With an incomplete breed registry and the lack of a nation-wide conservation strategy, the future of the Lac La Croix Indigenous Pony is still at risk of extinction due to the low numbers and small gene pool.
That's where The Red Pony Stands® Ojibwe Horse Sanctuary comes in! By raising awareness about this critically endangered breed of horse and breeding for sustainability, we can ensure the survival of the breed and its cultural heritage for generations to come!