Mural artwork by Bobby MaGee Lopez
Traverse City and the surrounding towns of northern Michigan exist on the lands of the Anishinaabek, also known as the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
A Long Past
The tribe traces its history back well before the first white settlement in the region (1839) or the founding of Traverse City (1895). The Anishinaabek were traders with routes across the nation and into Canada, and their people hailed from the Three Fires Confederacy: the Odawa (Ottawa) the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Bodowadomi (Pottawatomi).
Their land was reduced by a war between the French and English, the American Revolution, and the formation of the State of Michigan in 1837. By 1855, the Anishinaabek were asked to cede almost the entirety of their remaining land, leaving only a reserve established in parts of Leelanau county.
Despite many efforts, it took nearly 125 years for the tribe to finally achieve federal recognition under the Indian Reorganization Act, which allowed tribes to form a constitution and an independent government. This past year, the tribe celebrated 40 years of federal recognition, and a flourishing community exists within northern Michigan. Read a full history of the tribe here, or watch the video below to learn more.
A Bright Present (and Future)
Today, you will find the culture and history of the Anishinaabek evident throughout the region. Although it is currently closed in response to COVID-19, the Ewaaying Museum and Cultural Center offers an incredible look at the past and present of the tribe. From artwork to historical records to original and replica artifacts, the museum provides an immersive experience for all visitors. There is also a gift shop on site featuring the art of local and tribal artists.
When you visit downtown Traverse City, you can walk through the Clinch Park Tunnel, which is home to a mural called Mazinaadin Exhibition or “Make an Image.” The mural depicts both people and animals of special importance to the tribe, like eagles, wolves, and turtles. During major summer events like the National Cherry Festival and the Traverse City Horse Shows, you can catch Heritage Day celebrations that share Anishinaabek culture. And every August (2020 being an exception), there is an annual Peshawbestown Traditional Pow Wow open to the public.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) has also been instrumental in efforts to preserve the beautiful environment we all call home. One of the biggest projects you can see up close is the restoration of the Ottaway River, also known as the Boardman River. The project included the removal of several dams to reestablish the natural river channel, and you can see it in all its glory by visiting trails like Brown Bridge Quiet Area or the Keystone Rapids Trail. Learn more about the restoration efforts here.
Finally, though harder to see as a visitor to the area, the GTB supports the entire northern Michigan community via its 2% allocation program. Using 2% of the monies from gaming revenue at Turtle Creek Casino and Leelanau Sands Casino, the tribe distributes thousands of dollars twice a year to initiatives that fund local schools, public safety, and health services. Since the allocation began in 1994, the GTB has provided over $41 million to local organizations.
As people living on and visiting indigenous land in Traverse City, it’s important for us to learn the history and honor the culture of the Anishinaabek. More information about the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians can be found at gtbindians.org.