Who Were The Indigenous Tribes Of Michigan?
August 9th is the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. It's a day when we can recognize, and learn more about the Native People that lived and thrived on our continents before their lands were "discovered" by explorers.
Obviously, Michigan has a rich history with Indigenous People. Four Main Native American Tribes lived in what we know today as Michigan.
The Algonquin People
Encyclopedia Britannica says that the earliest inhabitants of the Michigan Peninsulas were all Native Tribes of the Algonquian Linguistic Group, long considered to be the "First Nations" in Canada. They settled in the Great Lakes area around the 17th Century, also up into what is now Canada. But obviously, before European settlers, there were not country borders, only territories held by each of the area tribes.
Many of them worked together. In fact, the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi formed a loose alliance known as the "Three Fires." This alliance would often meet in a central location, Michilimackinac, aka... Mackinac Island.
Odawa - "Traders"
The Odawa, or "Ottawa" tribe was scattered all across what is now the northeast U.S. and southeast Canada. When they first started settling in the Great Lakes Area, their original home was on the Canadian side - Manitoulin Island, near the northern shores of Lake Huron, and the Bruce Peninsula, which is present-day Ontario. After the 17th Century, though, they settled along the Ottawa River, and found their way into Michigan. They were known as the "Middle Brother" of the Three Fires Council, due to their size at the time.
They were influential in the fur trade with the French and British when they arrived, moving fur between Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Like most tribes, they were heavily displaced and influenced by European settlers who moved in on their lucrative trading business with the other tribes.
Today, there are roughly 15,000 Ottawa living on reservations in Ontario, Michigan, and Oklahoma.
Ojibwe - "Chippewa"
More commonly known today as "Chippewa," the Ojibwe tribe is more familiar on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, however, they did settle in parts of what would be the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They were a crucial part of the "Three Fires" alliance in the Algonquian families, known as the "Older Brother." For Canada, they are the largest population, and the second-largest of the First Nations population.
Many of the First Tribes were given names related to their services, but to this day, "Ojibwe," and any of its various forms have no known translation or meaning. However, closely resembling words could possibly define them as "those who cook/roast until it puckers." (Ojibwabwe); "Those who keep records [of a Vision]" (Ozhibii'iwe); "Those who speak stiffly" (Ojiibwe).
They were known for their birchbark canoes, scrolls, mining and trade for copper, AND, may have been one of the first native people to cultivate wild rice and maple syrup in north America.
Today, their total population is around 170,000 in the United States - still mostly in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota - and around 160,000 living in Canada.
From the western Great Lakes area, the Potawatomi actually call themselves Neshnabé, which is an inherited name from the Algonquin language. They are the "youngest brother" of the "Three Fires" alliance between the Ojibwe and Ottawa Great Lakes tribes. In Potawatomi history, they're referred specifically as Bodwéwadmi, which means "Keeper of the Fire," referring to the Council of Fire of Three Peoples.
They were primarily located in southwest Michigan, but during the Beaver Wars, they were pushed west to the Green bay to escape attacks from the Iroquois and the Neutral Nation. During the 17th century, their numbers were only around 3,000.
During the American Removal, they were pushed south to Kansas and Oklahoma, though some still remain in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Some even still live in Canada, but their numbers are still very small, totaling only around 29,000.
Miami (Not Part of the "Three Fires")
Only one tribe is recognized as one of the original Native tribes of Michigan, but not part of Three Fires, and that's the Miami. They were also in southwest Michigan and western Ohio. Their name roughly translates from an older Algonquian language that means "downstream people."
Early culture of the Miami people has them more tightly associated with the Mississippi societies, growing maize-based agriculture, and with a chief-style social organization. They were tightly involved with regional trade networks, and were heavily engaged in hunting, similar to other Mississippian people.
But the Miami were much father north than most Mississippi-based tribes. During the Iroquois Wars, they had locations in what is Niles, Michigan, but were severely displaced as they were very small. They were forced west as well, into Illinois and Wisconsin. However, they did have known locations in the St. Joseph River area, and the Kalamazoo River area of Michigan. They also established a Detroit Village in the early 18th century.
But they, too, were moved during the American Removal, and found homes in southern Kansas, and Oklahoma. As of 2011, the tribe only had about 4,000 citizens. Today, they have established tribes in Oklahoma, and Indiana.
Notable Natives from Michigan
Chief Baw Beese (Potawatomi)
When the treaty of Chicago was signed in 1821, Chief Baw Beese wasn't a signatory, and maybe didn't even know about the expectation that he would have to move his tribe out of the way for white settlers. The treaty would cede all lands in Michigan Territory south of the Grand River to the American Government. However, Chief Baw Beese stayed, and in many cases, he and his band of Potawatomi proved helpful to families crossing, and settling in the state, even saving them from starvation and being lost in the dense wilderness.
Andrew Jackson Blackbird (Odawa)
He was the son of a Ottawa Chief, Blackbird helped with negotiations for the Treaty of 1855, which established a large reservation for the Odawa tribe near Harbor Springs. He served as interpreter, translator, and official witness for the Native Americans in the negotiations, and eventually became integral in helping get pensions and land claims for Odawa veterans.
Indian Dave of Tuscola County (Chippewa)
This was the last Chippewa to hunt, fish, and trap in the "old manner" in Tuscola County. According to legend, he attended the gathering at the Saginaw River where 114 Chiefs and natives signed the treaty of Saginaw. That treaty ceded about six million acres in eastern Michigan to the Unite States. Indian Dave, or his Chippewa name "Ishdonquit," would entertain and fascinate children with his tales and native customs. He died in 1909, and was believed to be 106 years old, and one of the last to have made bows and arrows, and live in "Ojibwe" traditional ways.
Chief Pontiac oversaw his tribe safely during northern tribe attacks in the 1700s. He is best known for defending Detroit, and assumed that he led the Ottawa and Chippewa warriors at Braddock's Defeat.
He fought tirelessly to drive back the British when they attempted to take Detroit, even trying to bring in tribes from the Mississippi River to help. but ultimately, he was unsuccessful, and finally made peace, in Detroit, on Aug. 17, 1765. However, Four years later, at a drinking carousal in Illinois, he was murdered by a Kaskaskia Indian. Though, Pontiac's Rebellion, fought between 1763, and 1766 is still regarded as one of the most significant wars between Native Americans and Europeans.