TRAVERSE CITY — A path in Clinch Park that uses brick inscriptions to narrate aspects of the park’s history begins with the property’s initial use by a white man, a frame of reference that prompted some history buffs to ask city officials to take a more culturally diverse approach.
The concrete walk that leads from the tunnel under Grandview Parkway across the park and past the new pavilion is interspersed with 12 rows of engraved bricks that feature events that have occurred in and around the park land starting in 1852. But Richard Fidler and Derek Bailey will ask city commissioners to consider turning back the clock and adding a brick line that notes Native Americans’ original settlement along the waterfront.
“For 800 years, at least, people had lived at the mouth of the Boardman River, occupied that place, and had permanent or temporary villages there,” said Fidler, a local historian and author. “It’s just a small thing to remember the Native American presence here and we can’t forget that.”
Bailey, the former chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, will join Fidler to make a presentation to the city commission when it meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center. They’ll be part of the meeting’s public comment period, so commissioners aren’t expected to take any action and may not even discuss the matter, City Manager Jered Ottenwess said.
City staffers are researching the question and determined there is room to add another line of bricks without affecting the tunnel’s snow melt system, said Russ Soyring, city planner
Some discussions took place with the architect during the park’s planning stages about including recognition of the first people to settle the region, but that didn’t make the final cut. City staff and the architect settled on themes that included construction of the Hannah Lay Big Mill in 1852, construction of a railroad depot, cold storage warehouse and canning factory; openings of the Clinch Park Zoo, Con Foster Museum, and Marina; creation of the Open Space; and the first National Cherry Festival.
“What we ended up with on the history walk was dates when an event happened,” Soyring said. “These were activities that happened in Clinch Park or very close to Clinch Park.”
The city didn’t have a specific date for Native American settlement to remain consistent with the theme, and at the time some viewed the original settlers as more of a part of the history of the city than events at Clinch Park, Soyring said.
Fidler and Bailey counter that the historical record shows the first structures in Clinch Park were erected by the Anishinaabek, the name for the three tribes indigenous to what is now the state of Michigan.
Fidler also said that when the city dedicated the Clinch Park Zoo, a tribal chief was present and the names of all its resident animals were listed in both English and the Odawa, or Ottawa, language, recognition of the land’s earliest settlers.
Bailey said he’s not acting as a representative of the Grand Traverse Band or any other group, and said the question is about more than just a sidewalk engraving.
“It’s about relationship-building and cultural awareness of the diversity our beautiful city has to offer,” Bailey said. “It would be for me a respectful, but also a historically correct understanding of the land and the home that many of us call Traverse City.