It’s like dropping breadcrumbs along the trail. It becomes a way to find your way back home. When you’re lost, you are found. Throughout the Traverse City region, there are breadcrumb trails scattered around the region. These crumbs reconnect the first residents, Native Americans, back home.
The breadcrumbs take the form of cultural experiences that shed light on colorful traditions and experiences of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (Anishinaabe.) Some of these experiences are easy to encounter, others you may have to seek.
Most years, for example, the National Cherry Festival will host a Pow Wow during Heritage Day. The Pow-Wow is filled with joyous song and dance, vibrant costumes, along with the sounds of bells ringing and drums beating. The Pow Wow is a ceremony intended to go back to the beginning of time and the creation of the earth. It’s a connection to ancestors and one of the breadcrumbs that is a reminder of where the first settlers to the area came from.
A part of the cultural history is on display at the Leelanau Historical Society Museum in Leland. The Katherine Hall Wheeler, Traditional Anishinaabek Arts Room includes a permanent exhibition of Native American handmade black ash and quillwork baskets. Some of these baskets are over 100 years old and played an important part of the Native American history. At first, the baskets were mostly just functional. They were made to store or haul things. But when tourism started to become an economic driver to the region, it developed as a way for Native Americans to sell them. They became highly prized works of art. “It became a source of income,” said Elizabeth Adams, Curatorial Assistant of the Museum. “They became collectibles with early resorters. They were purchased in shops, the roadside and were also sold door-to-door."
Adams said the museum started a basket catalog and began the collection in 1987. She said people from the community would bring in donations, and many of the baskets had stories that were passed down from their grandmothers. “This exhibit is us sharing what life was like for them. Sharing the stories of the basket makers and what those baskets mean to them and their culture,” Adams said.
Another part of the historical trail can be picked up in the tunnel under Grandview Parkway that leads to Clinch Park. Here you will find the Mazinaadin Exhibition (or “Make and Image.”) They are reprints of 19 murals commissioned by the Traverse City Arts Commission. Colorado based artist, Bobby MaGee Lopez has works commissioned around the country. The Traverse City work is designed to depict the history and culture of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
All the panels display rich colors and an equally rich story. One panel called “Rites of Passage” shows a proud, reflective Anishinaabe child dressed in traditional regalia. The “Nature and Nurture” panel shows an Anishinaabe mother and child overlooking Lake Michigan. And “Edge of the World” depicts the role elders play in passing on their wisdom. The 19 panels carry deep symbolic meanings.
There are other cultural crumbs to follow. The Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center in Peshawbestown of Leelanau County is closed as of this writing, but when open is designed to gather, interpret and maintain the history of the Grand Traverse Band.
These historical crumbs are worth following. This, after all, is not only the history of a people. This is the history of Michigan. In fact, the word Michigan comes from the Ottawa word Mishigami, which means Great Water. Go ahead and follow the crumbs. You may find that they lead you home.