Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project
KBIC Tribal youth protect pollinators, build butterfly houses, restore Lake Superior beach

Edited from an article, content, and website suggestions contributed by Greg Peterson, Cedar Tree Institute and Jan Schultz, USDA Forest Service

 “Albert Einstein ... speculated once that if bees disappeared off the surface of the earth, then humans would have only four years of life left.”
Todd Warner, KBIC Natural Resource Director


     Each year, millions of Monarchs butterflies arrive in Mexico after their annual migration from the north.  Some which travel through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can thank Keweenaw Bay Indian Community teens for their future survival.  KBIC's  Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project in Marquette protects pollinators like butterflies because billions of honeybees are dying across the world – especially in the Midwest – in a syndrome called “Colony Collapse Disorder.”  While bees may be the most effective pollinators, butterflies area close second in transferring pollen from one plant to another.

     Founded by the Cedar Tree Institute, Zaagkii Wings and Seeds is a three year project by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and Marquette teens.  The youth are building dozens of slim white cedar butterfly houses which are lined with bark. These shelters offer protection, rest and reproduction safety to Monarchs and other butterflies. Many butterfly houses have already been set up in Marquette and Baraga counties.  The butterfly houses sit on 10-foot poles. Butterflies with folded wings enter through seven tiny slits.

     Translated "Mem' en gwa" in Algonquian, the butterfly has long been honored by the Ojibwa. “Send me butterflies, so that I will be free,” says one Chippewa poem. The Ojibwa game, Butterfly Hide and Seek, teaches children to “never to hurt a butterfly” because it’s a “gift of good luck if you stayed so quiet that a butterfly would trust you and land on you.” 

  Youth Comments

 "Plants reproduce because butterflies “transport pollen from flower to flower” and the butterfly houses offer “shelter in bad weather.” Jorey Cribbs, 14
  When pollinators “land on flowers and then land on different flowers they help them reproduce.”  William Ross-Geroux,14
  “Butterflies use the houses to rest while migrating.”  Dylan DeCota, 16
  “I learned that when butterflies land on flowers and they pick up pollen from other flowers this starts the pollination process.” Briar Nieskes, 14
  "We put the bark on the inside like so – for the butterflies to rest on. We put on the top so the sunlight doesn't get in and they can get a good night's rest.” Ethan Smith, 17

     Each fall hundreds of thousands of Monarchs stop and rest on the Stonington Peninsula before joining 3,000,000 Monarchs from across North America in their annual migration to Mexico. Once they arrive, Monarchs “converge in one small area” in Mexico and “drape down off of these trees,” said Tom Reed, Zaagkii Project volunteer. “They are really vulnerable to extinction." At least 17 Monarchs tagged on Stonington Peninsula were discovered in Mexico.


      Colony Collapse Disorder is when worker bees from a beehive or Western honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While CCD has occurred throughout history, the latest CCD outbreaks began in North American Western honey bee colonies in  2006. European beekeepers have also observed CCD in  Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Initial reports are coming in from Switzerland and Germany. Taiwan may also be affected.

     Experts are unsure why honeybee colonies are collapsing but pesticides, climate change and human interference are suspected. Bald-faced hornets are also blamed as the largest natural killers of honeybees   “The problem with disappearing pollinators is a cause for concern (because) all life is interconnected,” said Todd Warner, KBIC Natural resources director. ““If the pollinators disappear, then vegetation systems are disrupted and begin collapsing, some plants will disappear, many or most fruits and vegetables disappear, and the ripple of impact moves outward in ways we can't predict.”

     As honeybees vanish, experts worry about the decline in bumblebees, including two species that have gone extinct. “We are seeing a reduction in the number of bumblebees,” said Jan Schultz from the U.S. Forest Service in Milwaukee. “Bumblebees are pollinators on steroids – they are tens times more effective in pollinating than a honeybee. They engage in a particular type of pollination that’s called buzz pollination. You’ll hear this drilling buzzing sound – it’s a loud buzzing sound. They violently buzz the inside of that plant. There are some plants species that have to be pollinated that roughly to be effectively pollinated. Bumblebees are fabulous pollinators.”
      Colony Collapse Disorder makes the butterflies' work even more important. “A lot of people think butterflies are just pretty but they do important work,” said Jon Magnuson, Cedar Tree director

Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Plant RestoratioN

     Zaagkii is an Ojibwa word that means: "The Earth's gift of plants" and "The Earth giving birth to plants." Besides building butterfly houses, Zaaglii Project youth are restoring Native plants to ensure the butterflies will forever pollinate fruits, vegetables and flowers.  Zaagkii teens have already planted over 26,000 native species in seed trays. These plants are now housed in a greenhouse at Hiawatha National Forest in Marquette. Next spring they will be planted across northern Michigan, including Sand Point, a Lake Superior beach where copper mining waste have destroyed the environment. These indigenous plants will attract a wide range of wildlife to the 35 now-barren acres.

     “They are planting seeds that are native to the [Michigan's Upper Peninsula]" said Angie Lucas from Hiawatha National Forest. “Native plants play a vital role in insect populations. For example, Monarch caterpillars are specific to milkweed plants and without milkweed plants we have no Monarch caterpillars” 


     Milkweed seeds are also collected from Hiawatha National Forest, then raised in the Marquette greenhouse. The young plants will be returned to nature.  "The milkweed provides food for the Monarch caterpillars – once the caterpillars mature and turn into a butterfly that pollinates the milkweed plant,” said Lucas.

     Keweenaw Bay youth are also helping their tribe remove invasive plant species from the area. The goal is “the propagation of the native species ... rather than having the exotics (plants) come in and destroying what we have established,” said Evelyn Ravindra, a Natural Resources Specialist. Sand Point “is wide open to the reestablishment of native plants,” she added. “All the life stages of the butterflies need indigenous plants."

     The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) has honored the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for their efforts to restore native habitats. On a California Radio show, USFS botanist Jan Schultz added her praise: Native plants “are important sources of pollen and nectar” that make pollinators “very effective,” she said. “During all the time that these bees and butterflies are active and not dormant is real important. So they’ve got something literally to eat – from the time they emerge – to the time they go back into their caves or cracks in the trees.”

Several Marquette teens raised their voices as to why the Zaagkii Project is important to pollinators.
Restoring indigenous plants is vital to Upper Penisula wildlife “so our native species don't get overruled and extinct by predator species,” said Justin Fassbender, 16.
Ensuring the future of native plants is important because “there are a lot of invasive species,” said Devin Dahlstrom, 15.

How You Can Help

     During an appearance on a California radio show, Evelyn Ravindran praised the KBIC and Zaagkii Project.  “[Zaagkii Weed and Seeds Project] is in the public view [to] bring awareness to people all around of the trouble that the pollinators are in and what they can being doing to help – the kind of plants that maybe they can be bringing back to their own home gardens – ways that they can be helping.”

     The USFS says the public can help protect pollinators by being careful about the types of insecticides being used and reducing the amount of chemicals for gardening and lawn control.  “The chemicals many times are not very discriminate, and so they will kill these pollinators as well as the undesirable species,” Schultz said. “So it's really important for people to think ‘Gee, do I really need to use that?'  Try to get pesticides that are more discriminate to what the offender is. Apply the pesticide either really, really early in the morning ... or at dusk when the pollinators aren’t active.”

Other Comments

    Greg Warner, KBIC Natural Resource director, said it’s important for tribal teens to protect pollinators.  “Young people learning about pollinators and native plants today will carry this knowledge for the rest of their lives. How they use it will be up to them.”

     “Butterflies ride the winds” and warm thermals as they fly only a few inches off the ground or soar 2,000 feet in the air. They don’t fly against the wind. If the wind is going against them, they just rest. They hide somewhere. When the wind blows behind them they get on the winds and ride [glide on] them. That's how they get to Mexico.”  Jon Magnuson, Cedar Tree director.

     “The more you learn about nature and can understand nature – the more you can appreciate the web of life and how we all exist,” Beekeeper Jim Hayward

      The Zaagkii Project contributors include the Marquette Community Foundation, the Negaunee Community Fund, the Negaunee Community Youth Fund, the M.E. Davenport Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, the Phyllis and Max Reynolds Foundation, with assistance from the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum in Marquette and the Borealis Seed Company in Big Bay

For more information about Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project or the Cedar Tree Institute, contact Greg Peterson:

Other Resources:
Teens Help with Sweet Nature Project
 Keweenah Bay Zaagkii Youth Project News Article by Greg Peterson
Follow the Monarch's Migrations
Marquette, Michigan Teens Build Mason Bee Houses
 Migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Science Reference Guide, Library of Congress

Wildones organization

Monarch Watch::

Monarch Author Lynn M. Rosenblatt

Butterflies and Moths of North America:

United States Forest Service  wildflowers website:

Monarch Butterfly

The Butterfly Site:

Butterfly Encounters:

United States Forest Service pollinators website:

Monarch Butterfly USA

Kids Gardening

NBII Mountain Prairie Information Node.


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