Native American History in Michigan?
November 5, 2012 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Good overview resources on Native Americans' traditional way of life in the Great Lakes region (specifically Southeast Michigan)?

I moved to Ann Arbor recently and am mainly interested in life before colonization. Do you know of any good resources on everyday Indian life here (not so much interested in the Wars or period after colonization). Every type of source is OK - fictional, non-fictional, book, movie, article, book chapter...non-academic would be preferred but if it's readable I'm OK with anything.
(Of course if you happen to know anything about traditional Native American culture in this area feel free to add interesting tidbits to this thread. Where did people live, what did they eat, what religion did they have, that kind of thing. I'm absolutely clueless!)
posted by The Toad to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are a number of First Nations (what we call Native American nations in Canada) groups that have traditionally inhabitated the Great Lakes Region, including the Odawa, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Mississauga, Oji-Cree, Potawatomi, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, Seneca, Iroquois, Mohawk, Huron peoples at various points throughout history. Are you specifically interested in the American groups? Many of the Great Lakes First Nations traditional territories extended over what is now Canada and the US. As far as I am aware, the Bodéwadmi (Potawatomi in English) have traditional territory surrounding Lake Michigan.

I am only somewhat familar with Haudenosaunee and Mississauga culture and history through my undergraduate studies and friends, so I cant really speak to other nations. One thing you might run into during your search for resources that First Nations history and teachings are meant to be heard in an oral context, so there are not as many sources as you might think. Second one, if you come across any primary historical materials from the period right after contact, you have to read them with a critical eye towards the prominent political and religious views at the time, and consider that any information about pre-contact cultures might not be entirely accurate. Also, not sure what the political situation is like in the states but here in Canada, Indian not really used anymore to describe Aboriginal peoples and is considered derogatory.

This website has some basic information on some First Nations groups that inhabit the Great Lakes area. I am in class right now but I will pop by later and see if I can think of anything else. Feel free to memail me if you have any specific questions!
posted by snowysoul at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2012

The Ann Arbor area specifically was inhabited by the Ojibwe before colonization. You will want to bear in mind during your search: the spelling variants Ojibwe/Ojibwa/Ojibway/Chippewa, the name they had for themselves, Anishinaabe (Anishinabe, sometimes a k or g is at the end of this word), and related tribes such as the Odawa/Ottawa and Potawatomi/Bodewadmi that were in the area. You will tend to find the most information about the Ojibwe, usually, as we are a large tribe. We have an oral tradition and did not have a written language in use before colonization (though we had pteroglyphs and birch bark scrolls and such to aid oral history) so most of what you find written about our history and way of life at the time was written after the fact and by outsiders. Because the geographic extent of the tribe is large, way of life varies, but a stereotypical summary is that we hunted, fished, gathered, and farmed food, lived in wigwams, moved with the seasons and convened into larger groups or broke up into smaller ones accordingly. A lot of what you would consider "religion" was just baked into everyday life but there are also religious societies such as the Midewiwin. To find some cultural info on the Web, try looking up explanations of the medicine shield, the use of medicines such as tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar, and traditional stories featuring Nanaboozho/ Nanabush, an Ojibwe trickster character.

You ought to look up the Native American specialist librarian at U-M and see what they suggest for an overview book for Michigan Indians. I am unable to come up with a good book off the top of my head for pre-colonial era despite being a local Ojibwe who studied this stuff in college, myself. Don't forget we are still here and though we eat and make a living differently, there are still people who live the traditional cultural way of life that may be interesting to you in your search.
posted by zizania at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Indian Country Wisconsin is a nice starting point. The Potawatomi hung out in most of the mitten as well, so the specific pages for them are helpful.

Native Languages has a lot of links about Potawatomi culture as well. And about Michigan Indians in general.

If you ever go to Wisconsin you can visit the Forest County Band's Cultural Center and Museum.

This is a very thorough page on Potawatomi history with a bit on culture too.

You just missed the Pokagon Band Pow Wow but maybe you can go next year!

And the Wiki link to Native American tribes in Michigan.

(Sorry it's so Potawatomi-heavy. I gotta represent my tribe.)
posted by elsietheeel at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2012

Welcome to Ann Arbor! There is a local history section at the Library branch downtown, it might have some books that you're interested in. The reference librarians there are great, and might be able to point you in the right direction.

The Pow wow at the UofM is worth going to.

Feel free to memail me if you have other local questions, its a great area.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:45 PM on November 5, 2012

Thanks, everyone. I had no idea there are Pow wows around here! We will definitely try to see one, sounds fascinating. And I will check out the library tomorrow - hadn't even thought of that.
posted by The Toad at 6:57 PM on November 5, 2012

Late update - Downtown Library did not have a lot of info on A2, specifically, and what they had was outdated/offensive to boot. But, the UofM Powow was amazing. Really one of the most memorable events I've ever been to, and our whole family loved it. Thank you for telling me about it!
posted by The Toad at 6:13 PM on June 13, 2013

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