OLD MISSION — Eric Hemenway is Anishinaabek Odawa and grew up in Cross Village. His mother was heavily involved in the movement for the Little Traverse Bay Band Indians’ fight for federal tribal recognition in the late 1980s.
He remembers growing up in an environment knowing the importance of history and people’s stories.
Now the director of repatriation, archives, and records for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, Hemenway is sharing the stories of the Waganakising Odawa, known today as the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, and their ancestral homelands in a two-part series hosted by the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society.
Waganakising, known as the “land of crooked trees,” is between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. This beautiful area has been home to the Odawa tribes well before the arrival of French colonizers in the 17th century.
The Odawa belong to the Niswi-mishkodewinan, or the Council of Three Fires, which is an Anishinaabek alliance with the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and the Bodewadmi (Potawatomi). Within the council, each Anishinaabek tribe bore responsibility and roles. They shared similar culture, language, territories, and held close military and political ties. Today, many are federally recognized tribes in Michigan, and their close alliance to each other remains.
The first part of the series was Jan. 15 via zoom invite when Hemenway introduced Waganakising Odawa leadership, starting in 1830 with the Indian Removal Act that was signed into law by Andrew Jackson.
This act allowed for the U.S. government to legally and forcefully remove Indigenous populations living east of the Mississippi River to west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native American communities were forced off their homelands and were marched hundreds of miles to Oklahoma and Kansas. This was a death sentence to thousands of women, children, and elderly who lost their lives to exposure, sickness, and starvation, Hemenway said.
He called attention to the great magnitude in the Waganakising Odawa leadership, in a time he called “one of the most difficult times for the tribe, but also one of the most resilient.”
Jackson’s Indian Removal Act was a “genocidal policy,” because it goes beyond the killing of a race, Hemenway explained. He said the term isn’t used lightly, because the Indian Removal Act was “the destruction of (Indigenous) culture and their resources and dispossession of land and everything that makes people, people.”
This was not a new way of thinking for 1800s colonizers — it stemmed from Doctrine of Discovery ideology.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” which justified and allowed Christian Europeans to claim land they allegedly discovered and to promote Christian domination and superiority. Within the framework of the Doctrine, Native Americans were considered to be non-human, “savages’, and “inferior and uncivilized.” It has been used for centuries to justify the genocide of Indigenous People, seizure of their lands, and the ongoing systemic racism in the United States. This was the framework for many early U.S. policies regarding the “Indian problem.”
Hemenway called this time “apocalyptic” for Indigenous communities, noting they were not only going through forceful removals, but also starvation, and diseases brought in by the European colonizers.
Although Little Traverse Bay Band wasn’t forcefully removed, they did have to navigate to avoid it.
After the Trail of Death for the Prairie Band of Potawatomi in 1838, northern Odawa leaders started looking at ways to avoid the same fate for their people.
Kanapima, which means “He who is talked about,” was born in 1813 in Waganakising and had the English name, Augustin Hamlin Jr. His uncles and grandfather were chiefs to their tribe and chose Kanapima, and his two cousins, William Blackbird and Margaret Boyd, to attend a seminary school in Ohio. There, he learned to read, write, and speak English, along with French and Latin. He and William also studied in Rome, Italy, which was very rare at the time, but Kanapima took the opportunity to receive this education because he believed it could help his people.
This education played a vital role in the Treaty of Washington 1836. Waganakising leaders understood that Kanapima was incredibly intelligent and asked for him to be the interpreter for six different tribes at one of the most historical events for the Odawa nations. Kanapima played a vital role in helping the Odawa maintain their right to stay in their homelands and the rights to hunt, fish, and gather.
He was able to help the Odawa leaders translate and negotiate their rights, eventually signing the 1836 Treaty.
Even after the treaty was signed and put into law, the United States government attempted to forcefully remove Odawa out west to Kansas, but Kanapima understood the treaty and their rights, so he wrote many letters and petitions to avoid removal. His role is very important in Waganakising Odawa history.
This is just one story of many, Hemenway said, adding that it is important for all Michiganders, but especially for Anishinaabek to remember the impacts Waganakising Odawa leaders had on Michigan history.
“People tend to think of tribes in a past tense, but these stories bring us to the present day. They are not irrelevant, they have direct ties to communities all throughout Michigan and the Great Lakes,” Hemenway said.
The second part of the series presentation will be held on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m.
Visit https://www.omphistoricalsociety.org/ for more details.