The MSU Native American Institute explains why the Treaty of Saginaw, acknowledgement of tribal land and listening to Native communities are important.
Michigan State University (MSU) has several events planned for Sept. 20-21 to recognize the bicentennial of the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. Events and programming will raise awareness about the history of the land on which MSU resides and how the past shapes the present and the future.
“The boundaries of the state of Michigan resulted from several land cessions from 1807 through 1842,” said Christie Poitra, interim director of the MSU Native American Institute (NAI). “Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their land. It is a complex and untaught history.”
The land that MSU occupies is the ancestral, traditional and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples – that was ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. European colonists often negotiated treaties with tribes under duress or in ways that gave them the upper hand to legalize land seizures from Native people.
MSU is a beneficiary of land allotted through the passing of the Morrill Act in 1862, which enabled the creation of land-grant colleges. The Morrill Act allotted land, ceded from Native people, to states and territories to form colleges connected with agricultural and mechanical arts education.
“It’s important to think of what land cessation meant to tribal communities historically and the ongoing impacts on resources, access and education,” Poitra said. “We must work to more holistically recognize the history of the area. Commemorating the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw on the campus of Michigan State University is one way to help do that.”
MSU commemorative events
The 1819 Treaty of Saginaw commemorative programming and events are supported by a $20,000 grant from the Native American Heritage Fund awarded to the Indigenous Law and Policy Center in the MSU College of Law, the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program through the College of Arts and Letters, and the NAI in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The main event, the Edweying Naabing: Looking at the Past and Present Symposium, runs Sept. 20-21 at the College of Law building and covers topics including environmental and food justice, tribal leadership and diplomacy, educational sovereignty, and settler colonialism and treaties in the Great Lakes region.
The phrase “Edweying Naabing” refers to looking at the past and the future and was given to the event by Alphonse Pitawanakwat, a fluent speaker and teacher of the Anishinaabemowin language.
The symposium aims to reach out to the broader community as a way to strengthen relationships and expand MSU’s understanding of Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous people. Panel speakers include Native community members and MSU graduates who work with tribal communities in Michigan, including those involved with MSU Extension programs.
“The voices that are usually amplified in Indigenous and tribal discourse are often faculty,” Poitra said. “We wanted to make sure community and practitioner voices were the center of the symposium.”
A dinner will follow the symposium on Sept. 20 at the Indian encampment site on campus in the People’s Park courtyard between Wells Hall, Erickson Hall and the International Center.
Another part of the symposium, on Sept. 21, is Native Family Day for Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous youth and their families to learn about MSU and meet Native faculty, staff members and students. This student event is a collaboration with the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions.
“Sometimes in this work, especially community work, the research and projects get separated from the people,” Poitra said. “The 1819 Treaty of Saginaw commemorative events are a way for MSU and local communities to learn about Anishinaabeg people today while also sharing a deeper understanding of the history.”
The 1819 Treaty of Saginaw events at MSU are free and open to the public. Register online to participate.
Read more about sharing the history of tribal lands in the Native American Institute’s Guide to Land Acknowledgements.