TRAVERSE CITY — One of the first things Holly Thompson’s son noticed about the new Clinch Park was how it had erased any mention of his Native American history.
Thompson, of Cedar, joined a packed house at Monday’s city commission meeting to request the city acknowledge the first people to settle the waterfront that encompasses the park. The park renovation removed the old zoo that named the animals in the Odawa, or Ottawa language and painted over pictographs of the zoo animals and their native names in the tunnel under Grandview Parkway.
“He said: ‘Wow mom, it’s like we aren’t even here,’” Thompson said. “That was really sad for him and it was sad for me too.”
The final slight was not including any mention of the first settlers of the waterfront in a concrete walk interspersed with 12 rows of engraved bricks that feature events that have occurred in and around the park land starting in 1852.
“What do I say to my grandson when he asks me: ‘Where are we grandma, because you told me our people have always been here,’” said Arlene Kashata, of Traverse City.
Kashata works with a group of people who visit schools and other events to educate people about the history and culture of the Anishinaabek, the name for the three tribes indigenous to what is now the state of Michigan.
Thompson and Kashata were among a half dozen tribal members who spoke in favor of adding a row of bricks to acknowledge the first event at Clinch Park, a permanent settlement that stretched from the Open Space to the east bank of the Boardman River.
Richard Fidler, a local historian and author, enlisted Derek Bailey, former tribal chairman for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, to raise the issue of the sidewalk omission with the city commission. Bailey said he expected the support from tribal members for his request but was overwhelmed and moved by the strong turnout and support from the community at large.
“This is not just for the Anishinaabek, but for all the people who call this area home,” Bailey said.
Don Coe, chairman of the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, said the tribe deserves recognition not just for its history but its substantial and continuing contributions to the region’s economy.
“They deserve every recognition we can extend,” Coe said, speaking on behalf of the EDC and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Kashata said she was angry and hurt initially, but left the meeting excited after Commissioner Jeanine Easterday suggested the painting of a mural in the tunnel to reflect what the waterfront looked like when it was first settled.
Kashata and Thompson both said they envision a mural that shows the Anishinaabek’s transition from the beginning to modern day.
Commissioners were overall receptive to the proposals and Bailey said now they will begin working with the city to bring a formal proposal before the commission for action.