MAPLE CITY — Sometimes it’s best to sit on the floor and pass around artifacts to get a feel of early Michigan history.
Fall is that time for third-graders at Glen Lake Community School.
That’s when Leelanau County historian Laura Quackenbush and Hank Bailey, a Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa Indians natural resources staffer, typically appear at the school for a show-and-tell session to explain how Woodland Indians lived for more than 12,000 years before Euro-American settlement in the Great Lakes region and eastern United States.
Bailey couldn’t make it this year, but Quackenbush recently had enough artifacts spread across a blanket on the floor to capture the attention of almost 50 third-graders across two 45-minute sessions.
A partial list of the artifacts: Hand woven baskets, deer spike horns sharpened to a point that could cut holes in deer skins, a piece of a chert stone chipped into arrowhead shape, beach nuts, dried squash pieces that looked like onion rings, a herbal root that soothed sore throats when chewed, rope and cords made of cedar bark, nettle and milkweed fibers.
Third-graders statewide study Michigan history as part of the state’s core curriculum plan. Their lessons focus on general state history, Native Americans, statehood, government, economy, rights and citizenship.
The Lifeways of the Woodland Indians presentation is a yearly component of Glen Lake’s state history curriculum. Third-graders also take field trips in the early fall to the Leland Museum, Fishtown and Carlson’s Fishery, as well as to the Grand Traverse Band’s Eyaawing Museum in Peshawbestown in the spring.
Woodland Indians may be the ancestors of Michigan’s three main tribal groups today: Odawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi, also collectively called the Anishinaabek.
They all spoke similar Algonquin languages and formed a long-term “Three Fires” confederacy centuries ago. How the People of the Three Fires came to live in Michigan is unknown, but Native American oral histories say they came from the Atlantic Coast.
“Local Indian history is very important if you live in Leelanau County and it fits in with the Michigan history,” said third-grade teacher Kathi Thoreson, who grew up in Cedar. “Kids takes pride in knowing they have some Indian heritage. It’s not like it was years ago.”
Quackenbush opened her talk by showing two transparent balls that contained tiny plastic beads. One held 12,000 beads for the number of years Woodland Indians lived around the Great Lakes region and what is today the Eastern United States. The beads in the second ball totaled 160, the years since European and early American settlers began arriving in northwest Lower Michigan.
Quackenbush wove questions into explanations, and the children passed artifacts, one at a time, around the circle.
She talked about Woodland Indian gathering, hunting, gardening, and technology.
She asked students what Woodland people had to learn and know to survive. They discussed knowing how to build a wigwam out of saplings and bark, how and when to strip birch from a tree without harming it, and the importance of not hunting during the season fawns are born.
She picked up a tall cattail plant from in a bucket.
“Many people call this the “Supermarket of the Swamp” because it has so many uses,” she said.
Stalks can be woven into a mesh ring to place at the base of the wigwam to ventilate air. Its root is a nutritious food that tastes like potatoes. Its flower, the brown cattail, contains a nutritious golden pollen. Shredded cattail fluff was used as an absorbent in deerskin diapers, as well as insulation for moccasins.
Quackenbush works today for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a museum curator technician. Her recent presentation at Glen Lake schools was as a volunteer. She commended the school district for its commitment to state and local history.
“If you don’t understand the history of the place where you live, what kind of steward will you be?” she asked.