Exploring Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post

Cover: Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, Minnesota Historical Society, Onamia, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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 region in the 1700s.

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.

Pow-wow outfits on display at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Pow-wow outfits on display at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

History of the museum

Teaching displays at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Teaching displays at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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, gas station, and even a boat factory and maple syrup refinery.

Trading Post at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Trading Post at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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 result of a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Onamia, Minnesota
Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Onamia, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visiting the Mille Lacs Indian Museum

Canoe at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Canoe at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visitors to the museum are treated to a wide variety of displays and exhibits, including hands-on activities for children.

Exhibits at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Exhibits at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

The Mille Lacs Indian Museum tells the history of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
The Mille Lacs Indian Museum tells the history of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Travis Zimmerman in the Four Seasons Room, Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Travis Zimmerman in the Four Seasons Room
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Displays at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Displays at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Exhibits from the Ojibwe people at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Exhibits from the Ojibwe people
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Life-size figures in The Four Seasons Room at Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Life-size figures in The Four Seasons Room
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From depictions of harvesting wild rice in the autumn to making maple syrup to hunting and berry picking, the exhibits are exceptional.

Life-size figures in the dioramas at The Four Seasons Room
Life-size figures in the dioramas at The Four Seasons Room
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While the dioramas date back to 1964 in the previous version of the museum, the life-sized mannequins were added in 1972.

Mille Lacs Indian Museum, The Four Seasons Room
The Four Seasons Room
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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 Four Seasons Room, Mille Lacs Indian Museum
The Four Seasons Room, Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Trading Post

Moccasins at Trading Post
Moccasins at the Trading Post
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

The Trading Post offers American Indian art and crafts
The Trading Post offers American Indian art and crafts
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Beads at Trading Post & Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Beads at the Trading Post
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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 over nearly a century.

Postcard from 1964 at Trading Post & Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Postcard from 1964 at Trading Post
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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 content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.