Native American History of Michigan

Treaty of Paris, by Benjamin West (1783), an unfinished painting of the American diplomatic negotiators of the Treaty of Paris which brought official conclusion to the Revolutionary War and gave possession of Michigan and other territory to the new United States.

Michigan is a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern territories of the United States. Its name originates from the Ojibwe word mishigami, which means “large lake” or “large water.”

With a population of about 10 million, Michigan is the United States’ tenth most populous state, the 11th most far-reaching state by area, and the biggest by area east of the Mississippi River. Its central capital is Lansing, and its most populous city is Detroit. Metro Detroit is among the United States’ largest metropolitan economies.

Early History

The area was populated from about 1000 B.C.E to 1000 C.E. by the mysterious Native American Hopewell culture. Later, if we go by Oral accounts, Algonquian tribes from the East Coast were forced west when Iroquoian tribes migrated to the area from central Canada and took their fertile homelands—These being the ancestors of the Odawa, Ojibwe, Mascouten, Potowatomi, and Miami. Paleontology shows that this apparently occurred during the 12th-13th centuries. Originally, the northern peninsula was primarily claimed by the Ojibwe nation, although the Menominee claimed Wisconsin’s border region. Given that one of the earliest recorded names for the tribe was also the Mackinac, they most likely predate the other Algonquian Tribes in the area. The entire southern land was home to a tribe called the Mascouten until the not-so-well-known Beaver Wars, which was presumably home to a mixture of Siouan and Algonquian peoples before.

Their southern border seems to be the Maumee River of Ohio, and their area extended around Lake Michigan all the way into Indiana. During the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois of New York drove other tribes in league with the French hard against Lake Huron. Therefore several tribes migrated into Michigan and declared war on the Miami and Mascouten. The most likely identity for these tribes was the Erie, Anishinaabeg, and Chonnonton.

The Iroquoian tribes quickly continued into eastern and northern Ohio, and the Anishinaabeg population seems to have formed the Sauk and Fauk tribes by the time of the area’s oldest surviving maps, 1641. Either this or the Fauk & Sauk were chased into the province after defeats further east. Due to the deadly Beaver Wars, the Mascouten moved down to live around the Wabash River.

Given that they are culturally related and the Mascouten vanished from maps of the neighborhood around the same time that the new name arrives, they may have later become known as the Wabash tribe or Wea.

Afterward, the Iroquois destroyed the other Iroquoian societies of northern Ohio—the Chonnonton, Petun, and Erie — and continued moving into southern Michigan by the 1660s. With the Iroquoians having captured the southern peninsula for themselves, the other Algonquians started to refer to the surrounding lake as Michigan, which means “Big Cat” in their language. This is most likely assumed to be a reference to the Iroquoian water deity known as ‘Blue Panther,’ or, more precisely, “Cat which Stalks Below.”

They defeated the Fauk & Sauk, who moved west and took refuge among the Menominee and Ojibwe. This caused other wars between Siouan and Algonquian tribes within the following years.

Later, the Anishinaabeg societies north of Lake Superior (who were allied with the Huron) moved down to the Lake Erie region, demanding some land in southern Michigan. In the U.S., they were widely known as the Odawa, and in Canada, they were known as the Mississaugas—both deriving from subtribal and tribal names of the Anishinaabeg. The French migrated west, establishing the colony of Illinois around 1680, which demanded all the land between the Ohio River, Great Lakes, Appalachian mountains, and Mississippi River. Together with their local allies, they drew the Iroquois out of the region by 1701, forcing them to finally sign a treaty acknowledging the Niagara River and the Ohio-Pennsylvania borders as their lands’ boundaries.

In the meantime, other tribes that had settled in Ohio were constantly pushed west by new immigrants. Some settled in southern Michigan; however, these were mostly the leftover Iroquoian Wyandot. Rumor also has it that a Piscataway group (An Algonquian society from Maryland) called the Conoy moved into West Virginia and were noted as living around modern-day Detroit by 1819. If this is correct, they most likely mixed with the Odawa. During the 1812 War, tribes who sided against the United States were executed, and their lands were seized. With the controversial Indian Removal Act (best known for creating the Trail of Tears in the south) of the 1830s, many natives were thrown away from Ohio and Michigan, many choosing to go back to Canada. Despite this, many native tribesmen could remain if they abandoned their tribal allegiances and became American citizens. The later laws of 50 years later, banning Native American culture to control other tribes of the west, forever slaughtered this rich heritage.

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