Theft is the only accurate word to describe the land grab that ripped tens of thousands of acres from the hands of Indigenous families in the Grand Traverse region.
And using the correct word is the first step toward correcting 140-year-old wrongs committed against members of our own community. The second step is supporting the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ effort to sue the U.S. government for compensation for the theft.
Our own history, viewed through the clarity of hindsight, shows land taken from Indigenous families in Leelanau and Antrim counties was stolen through mechanisms created by land speculators, crooked politicians and a government that was incompetent, corrupt or both.
It’s a painful history we have seen revealed in many communities across the U.S. as tribal governments fight their way through the bureaucracies that decimated their ancestors, robbed them of their homelands and sought to erase their culture.
And if we take a moment to look for them, we see the wounds that have lingered in local Indigenous families for more than a century.
Those land thefts have damaged, and continue to damage generations of descendants whose families were deprived of the one thing that allows communities and families to set roots: a home.
That’s why we call the ongoing trauma that resulted wounds, not scars. Because they continue to negatively impact our Indigenous neighbors.
For those reasons we know the damage never will be truly repaired.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make amends for those long-inflicted injuries.
That’s why we join a laundry list of Leelanau County elected officials in supporting the Grand Traverse Band’s effort to sue the federal government for repayment for land taken. To their credit, GTB leaders, have decisively opted to seek compensation from the government that failed and harmed their ancestors, instead of pursuing individual parcels that in most cases now have changed hands several times since the late-1800s.
Boards in both Suttons Bay and Centerville Township two years ago penned letters in support of GTB. As did the Leelanau County board during its meeting last week.
Still, these histories often are difficult for many around us to swallow. Yet, somewhat simple efforts to accept and address the truths of our country’s history are important steps toward embracing and supporting our neighbors.
Acknowledging the thefts occurred, and providing reasonable payment with interest seems like a simple, common sense action. It’s also a material recognition of parts of our region’s past often omitted from school books.
We are proud of the local governments that so far have moved to support GTB, and we will continue to advocate for the Band as it seeks support from more local, state and federal officials.
Recognizing our nation’s historical wounds is the first step we must take before we can move forward together.
We choose to walk with our Indigenous neighbors along the path to reconciliation.