Building strong connections between tribal nations and county government: Part 2 - History

County commissioners from 18 northern Michigan counties learn about Michigan tribal sovereignty, history and cooperative efforts with counties.

The U.S. Constitution specifically mentions tribal nations and agreements with nations and the states in several places indicating recognition of tribal sovereignty at the beginning of the new nation. Many treaties were signed between the U.S. and tribal nations. Two that were especially significant for tribes in northern Lower Michigan were in 1819 and 1836. Eleven treaties were signed between 1795 and 1842, which together ceded 58,216 square miles of tribal land to the US in what is now known as the state of Michigan. Only 32 square miles in the Mt. Pleasant area remained in tribal control.

The 1830s began the era of removal of Indians from their historical lands and movement to reservations. In the 1890s, this was followed by the removal of children from their families for placement in boarding schools. Two such schools existed in Michigan, in Harbor Springs and Mt. Pleasant. Both efforts were aimed at forcing tribal members to abandon their traditional beliefs and practices, and fully assimilate into the culture of the new nation, to “kill the Indian and save the man” as one U.S. leader put it. While these efforts failed to destroy the native culture, they did succeed in doing significant damage to the structure of Indian families, the result of which still impacts many families today. Similar damage to health is also apparent, at least in part due to dietary changes brought about by the provision of commodity foods like lard and flour which were very different than the traditional native diet.

The response of indigenous people in northern Lower Michigan to these attempts to destroy their culture was a greater level of involvement in the local community. Their goal was not to be like those around them, but to survive by becoming integral parts of the community. They participated in employment, government and churches, often combining their traditional beliefs with those of the local churches they were part of.

Commissioners who participated in this program are delegates from their counties to the Michigan Northern Counties Association (MNCA). Michigan State University Extension provides educational programming assistance to the MNCA, which meets eight times each year.

Read more about building stronger connections between tribal nations and governments in northern lower Michigan in the following articles:

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