Story of Minnesota Ojibwe chief Hole in the Day headed to Hollywood

This land we call Minnesota rests on layers of stories. Dig and you find more. Dig and the stories grow deeper and more complex. Some of these fantastic tales seem suited for the movies, and soon enough that may be true.

Such is the story of a Northern Minnesota leader that most local schools still don’t teach, even though these buildings rest on the land his people once ruled unequivocally.

Chief Bagone-giizhig, or Hole in the Day the younger, was a remarkable Ojibwe leader during early Minnesota statehood. He negotiated the formation of the White Earth Ojibwe reservation. For most of the 1860s, the U.S. government regarded him as the leader of all Ojibwe people, though not all Ojibwe people recognized him as such.

His father, Hole in the Day the elder, was a respected chief who led the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe in Central Minnesota and negotiated early treaties for his people.

However, the son, Hole in the Day the younger, was more brash, charismatic and revolutionary.

Hole in the Day sought to unite all Minnesota Ojibwe at a time when native people were being killed, starved or relocated to smaller reservations. Hole in the Day the younger favored supporting the Dakota during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

He told Ojibwe men that the U.S. Army would conscript natives for the Civil War so they would join the cause. This wasn’t true. Another group of Ojibwe warriors surrounded Fort Ripley in a defensive formation to prevent war. This incident divided Ojibwe people, leaving many disillusioned with the would-be chief.

On June 27, 1868, shortly after departing for Washington, D.C., Hole in the Day was shot and killed outside Crow Wing, Minnesota, by a group of 12 Leech Lake Ojibwe men. The reasons why remained a mystery for years.

The most comprehensive history of Hole in the Day comes from the 2011 book “The Assassination of Hole in the Day” by Anton Treuer. Dr. Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe language and culture at Bemidji State University.

Last week, Treuer announced that Oscar-winning producer and screenwriter Dave Franzoni would write the adaptation of “The Assassination of Hole in the Day.”

Franzoni wrote and produced “The Gladiator,” (2000) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. He also wrote the screenplay to “Amistad,” a historical film about an 1839 slave ship uprising and efforts to free the imprisoned Africans who cast off their chains.

“Anton Treuer’s book on Hole in the Day is a consummate work of scholarship, one that jumped out as being inherently cinematic,” said Franzoni in a press release. “I am thrilled to be a part of this project, and pleased to be working with a team of great people.”

The film will be produced by Debwe Films with support from the Mille Lac Band of Ojibwe. The goal is to release the movie in 2021.

“We are thrilled to see our support of this film translate into the signing of Dave Franzoni,” said Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive. “We have full faith in his work and the entire team at Debwe. This will be the first major motion picture ever made from a book by a Native American author, startup capital from a Native American tribe, and authentic Native American acting talent. The film tells our history, and it will make history on its own.”

In addition to the father and son named Hole in the Day, two other men named Bagone-giizhig were prominent Ojibwe leaders. Among them was the man who led the Leech Lake Ojibwe in a brief uprising against. U.S. forces. The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Cass Lake was named for this Hole in the Day.

Treuer is the author of several prominent books about Native American languages, culture and history. Among them are “The Language Warrior’s Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Cost,” “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians (But Were Afraid to Ask),” and “Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe.”

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