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The Garden of Eden for multiple Michigan tribes, Mackinac Island to honor native heritage

Apr 3, 2017

When you step off the dock onto Mackinac Island, you’re setting foot on a land with a long, and sometimes troubled, history for Michigan’s first people.

There are new efforts underway to get visitors to look past the fudge shops and the quaint homes, to appreciate the Native American history on this island they call “Great Turtle.”

Eric Hemenway is director of archives and records for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

He said some believe Mackinac Island is the “genesis” for the Anishnaabek – the Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi people.

“Scientific evidence has shown us people have been on the island for at least 2-3 thousand years,” Hemenway said. “So either way you look at it, Mackinac Island’s history is very deep.”

Yet, it’s a “tumultuous history."

Before the Europeans came, Mackinac Island was an area of contest between the Iroquois and the Anishnaabek, Hemenway said. And when the Americans arrived after the War of 1812, “they started to set some pretty hard policies toward the Anishnaabek and other native nations.”

The Treaty of 1836 is a prime example.

“The Washington D.C. Treaty of 1836 is a living document,” Hemenway said. “It’s still being interpreted today. The tribes had to enter into these negotiations to avoid removal.”

Listen above to learn the detailed history that surrounds the Treaty of 1836.

Visitors to Mackinac Island will soon hear more of this Anishnaabek history.

Female chief and entrepreneur Agatha Biddle’s house was built in approximately 1780 and is “one of the oldest structures in Michigan that’s still standing.” It will become the history's centerpiece on the island.

Markers circling the island will also help detail Anishnaabek history.

“As you go around the island, you’re going to see contests for the island,” Hemenway said. “There’s all these multiple battles that take place for the island, whether it be Iroquois against Odawa and Ojibway, American British and Anishnaabek…”

Hemenway’s goal for the island's visitors is to “take away a great awareness of what Michigan is.”

“There’s a lot of different people that call Michigan home,” Hemenway said, “but the people that called Michigan home first were the Anishnaabek, and their story is not left in the past, it’s brought to the very present day, that we’re still here... "

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