Treaty of Washington of 1836 | Wiki Photo
The Treaty of Washington of 1836 ceded the yellow (Royce No. 205) area covering eastern Upper Peninsula and the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan | Wiki Photo

On Jan. 13, Eric Hemenway presented a fascinating program on the history of Odawa Leadership in Northern Michigan prior to the Civil War. The program was facilitated by the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society via Zoom.

Eric, who is the Director of Repatriation, Archives and Records for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, will present Part Two of the program on Feb. 4, 2021 at 6 p.m., again via Zoom through the OMP Historical Society. The second part will explore the leadership following the Civil War period.

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Click here to learn more about Part Two, including how you can listen to the presentation.

While Eric covered a lot of ground in Part One, here are just a few highlights from his talk, including a discussion of the Indian Removal Act, the Treaty of Washington of 1836, and how vitally important it was for the Native people of Northern Michigan to stay here, where they’d lived for thousands of years.

On the Indian Removal Act being signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, which forcibly removed Native Americans from their homes in Michigan and other states east of the Mississippi River to federal territory west of the Mississippi.

“Over 40 different tribes were removed to Oklahoma and Kansas between 1820 and 1850, and they’re still there to this day. By 1850, over 100,000 Native people had been removed to west of the Mississippi, and the Odawa and other tribes in Michigan were targeted for removal. Well, we didn’t want to go. This had been our home for thousands of years since time immemorial.

“In many ways, this was a genocidal policy because so many people died, not just from the journey, but once they arrived, they were in very foreign environments. They didn’t know how to grow things there and became dependent on food and other supplies from the federal government, which was often short in coming or with an inadequate or poor supply. So removal was something that was to be avoided at all cost.”

On the United States Army being ordered to remove the Native people.

“Liquidating is the term they used. Liquidating the southwestern portion of the state because of the prime farming land that was there. The Army had marching orders to clear out all the Indians, every single one.

“So there was a business of hunting Indians … capturing them and sending them west. But the Army was stretched so thin during this time period of removing Indians that they would actually hire what they called conductors. These were usually settlers hired by the Army to capture Natives and remove them to the west. These conductors would be paid per person upon delivery to the Indian territories.

“So this is going on right here in Michigan. The hard years that I’ve researched are between 1836 until about 1842, and during this time period, the army was actively hunting down Natives.”

On the Odawa leadership in Northern Michigan taking action.

“In the midst of all this, the leaders got together and said, ‘Let’s think this out. Let’s make a game plan and execute it, so we can stay home.’ So without them doing the game plan and taking action, I probably would be in Kansas giving a talk to The Kansas Historical Society, but I’m home in my own state.

“And what is this action? To stay home, we adopted American culture, religion and appearance. The United States, at this time, was very heavily invested in what we call civilization policies. They believed it was their right to take these Natives and bring them into a civilized state. This means everything from religion to appearance, housing, economics, government, how you raise your children, how you grow food, how you look, how you talk … every single thing that makes you an Indian was targeted for change under civilization policies.

“Civilized Indians were less likely to be targeted for removal, so the tribe here says, ‘Ok, we’re going to play this game, we’re going to adapt as much as we can … it’s a fine balance they were walking all the time, so they started to dress differently, to build churches in their own communities, change their appearance…

On Northern Michigan Natives on buying land and becoming United States citizens.

“You make all these changes to stay home, but they also recognized the need to set themselves apart politically … we weren’t going to sit back and be passive.

“Part of this plan was to buy land, and they were petitioning for state and federal citizenship, saying they had the rights of all other people in this country. But they knew they had to get that citizenship in order to do things like vote, own land, take people to court, just like their white counterparts were doing.

“But we didn’t have citizenship in the 1800s. We would not obtain citizenship until 1924 with the Indian Citizenship Act. We were the last population in the United States to receive citizenship, yet we were the first people to this continent.

“There were two mechanisms that Native people could achieve citizenship prior to 1924 – a Native woman would marry a white man, or you joined the military. In both cases, you had to renounce your tribal status, and people weren’t willing to do that, so we had to push for citizenship across the board. We achieved that in 1924 for all Natives.”

On signing treaties with the United States government.

“We were very savvy that we were going to do what our non-Native neighbors were doing … buying land and having title to land. So that’s what we started to do. How can you kick somebody off their land if they have title to it?

“We also signed these agreements called treaties … we pushed back on these agreements with the federal government, saying, ‘You sign this agreement just as we did. We’re holding you to this agreement.’

“We signed treaties with the United States previously, so we weren’t strangers to getting into treaties with the United States, but this was at a whole other level. So we decided we needed to get into a larger, more permanent, more expansive agreement besides the previous treaties.

“So [the tribes] picked leaders from their communities and left Harbor Springs in November of 1835, to begin the negotiations of the treaty that would be known as the Treaty of Washington of 1836. [Read the Articles of the Treaty here.]

On risking death in birchbark canoes to get to Washington, D.C.

“Mind you, they left in birchbark canoes, and they paddled all the way to Washington D.C. to negotiate this deal to stay home. Normally, they didn’t travel that late in the season for obvious reasons. If you tip over, you die. That’s a simple reality. But the stakes were too high. If you don’t make the move, moves will be made without your consent. So all these tribes started to make their way to Washington D.C., and it took weeks to navigate all the waterways, all the Great Lakes.

“And you can’t pull off and get a nice warm bed and take a shower. You’re sleeping outside. You’re paddling 10 hours a day. You’re hunting and fishing and relying on all your friends and family members along the way. They knew the water and knew they had to travel, but still it was a very dangerous trip. If you’re ever in Harbor Springs at the beach in November, just stand on the beach and think about that.”

Treaty of Washington of 1836 | Wiki Photo
The Treaty of Washington of 1836 ceded the yellow (Royce No. 205) area covering eastern Upper Peninsula and the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan | Wiki Photo

On different tribes overcoming differences.

“By 1840, the Odawa community here realized that they had to overcome their differences because there were bigger things that were threatening them, and that was removal. People learned to co-exist with different beliefs because family ties overcome, and the need to be home was greater.

“So the tribes decide that instead of waiting and being reactive to what the United States is going to do, they were going to be proactive and make the first step. They decided that they were going to continue their government-to-government relations with the United States.

On providing for current and future generations.

Lewis Cass [Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson] was really the architect behind the Indian Removal Act, and Henry Schoolcraft [Michigan Indian Agent] was very much pro-removal … so this is our audience [during the treaty negotiations], and this is what we have to deal with. But you deal with it because again, you’re thinking about home and staying home forever…

“So [the tribes] arrive, they start to enter into this treaty agreement, and the Ojibwa part of that treaty, they have to basically sell to the United States over 13 million acres of land to stay home. This is two-thirds of the state. It’s the largest land cession treaty for all of Michigan. And what we retain out of this is a very small area, what we call reservations, and we also reserve the right to hunting, fishing and gathering on the territory…

“Now mind you, the leaders are thinking about what’s going on back home. You have these diseases, you have these crop failures, you have sickness, and you’re thinking of future generations … you’re trying to provide for your current generation, but you’re also thinking about 100, 200 years down the road.”

[The treaty was concluded and signed on March 28, 1836 in Washington D.C. by Henry Schoolcraft and several representatives of the Native American nations – Apawkozigun, Keminitchagun, Tawaaganee, Kinoshamaig, Naganigobowa, Onaisino, Mukuday Benais, Chingassamo and Augustin Hamlin, Jr. The treaty was proclaimed on May 27, 1836.]

On honoring their Native American ancesters.

“It’s important for the Odawa that we still honor our ancestors with ceremonies today that we call Ghost Suppers … we still have them to this day. They’re one of the hallmarks and foundations for our communities every fall, or families, if they so choose. A community feast where people come and eat, and it’s not just a memorial of thinking about the dead, but we actually have the belief that we are feeding the dead on the other side.

“That’s one of the reasons we were so adamant about staying home, because you have to take care of your dead. It’s absolutely paramount. There’s no negotiation with this. You have to do this.”

For more information…

For additional reading, check out “Masters of Empire, Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America” by Michael A. McDonnell (find it here on Amazon), which one of the participants on the Zoom program asked about.

“It is probably one of the best native books I’ve read in the last 10 years,” says Eric. The author consulted with Northern Michigan tribes, and he and Eric toured some of the local villages together. “It’s not your typical dry academic material. It’s a really good story … a sharp, great book to read. I can’t speak enough about it.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. In the early ’60s, I began researching the Native Americans and their reservations in Michigan for a master’s thesis. Motherhood intervened and a move to Texas halted that project. I had been studying Pokagon’s band/state reservation in southern Michigan. The entire Indian Removal program is a disgraceful episode in our history. I will look for the book mentioned above here in Illinois.

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