Chippewa Lake: A Community in Search of an Identity

Chippewa Lake: A Community in Search of an Identity

by Cindy L. Hull


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Chippewa Lake is an idyllic waterfront community in north-central Michigan, popular with retirees and weekenders. The lake is surrounded by a rural farming community, but the area is facing a difficult transition as local demographics shift, and as it transforms from an agriculture-based economy to one that relies on wage labor. As farms have disappeared, local residents have employed a variety of strategies to adapt to a new economic structure. The community, meanwhile, has been indelibly affected by the advent of newcomers and retirees challenging the rural cultural values. An anthropologist with a background in sociology, Cindy L. Hull deftly weaves together oral accounts, historic documents, and participant surveys compiled from her nearly thirty years of living in the area to create a textured portrait of a community in flux.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611860481
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Edition description: 1
Pages: 220
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Cindy L. Hull is Professor in the Anthropology Department at Grand Valley State University.

Read an Excerpt


A Community in Search of an Identity
By Cindy L. Hull

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2012 Cindy L. Hull
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61186-048-1

Chapter One

The Geography and indigenous people of Mecosta County

[Delegates of the Ottawa] represent to me, that they have been to see the land this set apart, and say that it is not such as was represented to them nor such as they want—that a large portion of it is covered with pine and that much of it, is poor and sandy—, that they have been deceived in regard to it, and many of them declare that they will not go on to the land at all, much less accept it as their permanent home.


West-central Michigan is blessed with an abundance of rivers, streams, and lakes that have provided a pristine environment for early Native American communities, European settlers, and modern-day sports enthusiasts. Three river systems, comprising 293 miles of rivers and streams, drain the county. The Muskegon River flows through Big Rapids and, with the Little Muskegon River, drains the western eight townships, including Chippewa Township, flowing ultimately into Lake Michigan at Muskegon. The Flat River starts in southeastern Mecosta County and joins the Grand River before it too flows into Lake Michigan. Finally, the Chippewa and Pine River system drains six eastern townships, including Chippewa Township. These two rivers form the Titabawassee River at Midland, Michigan, and join the Shiawassee River, which becomes the Saginaw River, which ultimately empties into Lake Huron.

Mecosta County also boasts 328 natural lakes and ponds, covering 4,744 acres. Fifteen of these are located in Chippewa Township, though Chippewa Lake, covering 790 acres, is the largest and most influential in the local landscape. In addition to lakes and rivers, Mecosta County has an estimated 51,922 acres of wetlands, almost 30,000 of which are forested. One of the largest protected wetland areas, the Haymarsh State Game Area, is located in Martiny Township, which abuts Chippewa Lake to the south. The abundance of marshy wetland surrounding Chippewa Lake and extending outward into nearby farmland adds to local beauty. Government-protected wetlands, a hindrance to farming and development, provide a haven for a wide variety of plants, birds, ducks, and loons.

Much of the topography of Mecosta County is formed by glaciers that completely covered the area during the Pleistocene. The present topography is largely a result of the Wisconsin Glacier, the last one to cover this area. while glacial moraine formed the hilly landscape and the smaller lakes, larger lakes such as Chippewa Lake and the Martiny chain of lakes in Chippewa and Martiny Townships were formed when large sections of ice broke off from the retreating glacier.

The receding glaciers also left behind the soil deposits that still have an impact on forestry and farming today. Coloma, Remus-Spinks-Metea, and Marlette soils provide a combination of well-drained sandy soil, loamy soil, and clay that are well suited for woodlands, pasture, and grain crops, such as wheat and rye. Today, Mecosta County still has approximately 163,000 acres of forested area, about 45 percent of total land use. As we will see, original forests were dominated by white pine, but now, forested areas consist predominantly of secondary-growth aspen, maple, beech, birch, oak, hickory, red/white pine, and spruce and fir.


When I first moved to Chippewa Township in 1982, I harbored several assumptions about the indigenous history of the region, both of which proved to be mistaken. First, the preponderance of references to "Chippewa" in local designation of landscapes and locations led me to presume that the indigenous people associated with Mecosta County were Chippewa Indians, or Ojibway, as they are known in the literature. Thus, I was very surprised to learn that the people associated with the region were actually Ottawa (also called Odawa in other regions). The fact that the indigenous people were misidentified is just one mystery that shrouds Mecosta County history.

The second misconception relates to their local settlements, as there exist few documents and little material evidence of their presence in Chippewa and surrounding townships. As one travels through Mecosta County, vacations at the many lakes, or hunts in the forests or wetlands, one can imagine that this area would have been a haven for Native Americans. One has visions of wigwams along the Muskegon or Chippewa Rivers and their tributaries, settlements at the lakes, and well-worn trails leading from the county to other areas of western Michigan.

However, despite a bountiful ecological system comprised of forests, wetlands, rivers, streams, and lakes, there is little evidence that indigenous people actually settled in the area permanently, or even semipermanently. The Archaeological Atlas of Michigan describes a few minor trails passing through Mecosta County. One trail follows the Muskegon River for a short distance from the southwest, ending at hunting sites at Big Rapids. Other small trails are evident along the Chippewa River tributaries in townships south and east of Chippewa Township, and along creek beds that used to exist near Clear Lake and Rodney in Colfax Township, southwest of Chippewa Township. Mounds have been identified along the Chippewa River north and south of Barryton, east of Chippewa Lake, and along the Muskegon River as it flows into Osceola County to the north. The only village site identified for the county is at pretty Lake in Martiny Township to the south and east of Chippewa Lake. It appears that instead of settling in the township, indigenous people forged trails along the major river routes to favored hunting grounds and seasonal camps elsewhere, without establishing permanent or semipermanent settlements on or near Chippewa Lake.

The Ottawa

The first indigenous people identified with the Great Lakes are believed to have followed the retreat of the glaciers from southern regions from approximately 12,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C., hunting mammals, including the mastodon, using stone-tipped spears. The period from 8,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. is known as the archaic period, and during this time, indigenous groups spread out over the Great Lakes region, adapting their technology and culture to diverse environments, and developed trade routes to take advantage of products produced elsewhere, such as copper from the Upper peninsula. In the woodland period (1,000 B.C. to 1,000 A.D.) indigenous groups developed more stable communities; produced pottery, baskets, and complex tools; and cultivated local plants as well as corn, introduced from as far away as Mexico.

It was during this period that several outside indigenous groups began to migrate into Michigan. The Hopewell mound builders from the Midwest moved into southern Michigan and brought with them their practice of burying their honored dead in earthen mounds. But most significantly for this account, the Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway moved into the Great Lakes and established the Three Fires Confederacy, which defined indigenous culture in the region. Referring to themselves collectively as the Anishnabeg, the three tribal groups spoke dialects of the same language, Algonquian, and identified with each other using kinship terminology: the Ojibway were the older brother, the Ottawa were the next older brother, and the Potawatomi were the younger brother.

The Ottawa position as the middle brother seems to apply geographically as well as symbolically to numerous aspects of Ottawa life and culture. The Ottawa lived in a transitional ecological zone, located between mild climate and hardwood forests of southern Michigan and Ohio, inhabited by the Potawatomi and the Huron (bands formed from larger Potawatomi populations), and the colder coniferous forests to the north, inhabited by the Chippewa. Their kinship system was also flexible, exhibiting characteristics of the Chippewa patrilineal system and the Huron matrilineal system. While all Anishnabeg subsisted on cultivation supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering, the Ottawa were also known for their trade. Birch-bark canoes were the defining characteristic of Michigan Ottawa Indians as they traversed the rivers and Great Lakes trading between tribal groups, and later, they provided the links between Indian fur hunters and the French traders establishing themselves in Canada and northern Michigan. Ottawa traders traveled as far as Green Bay, Wisconsin, through the Straits of Mackinac, taking corn from central and southern Michigan to the northern Chippewa and returning down Lake Huron with animal pelts that they traded to the Huron Indians, who then delivered them to the French along the St. Joseph River, and east through Lakes Erie and Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to French trading posts in Montreal and Quebec. In this way, furs from Wisconsin arrived in Montreal.

Contact with Europeans

This harmonious relationship did not last long before the Iroquois, whose territory spanned the current states of Pennsylvania and New York on the southern shores of Lakes Erie and Huron and the St. Lawrence River, took notice. The Iroquois had aligned themselves with British and Dutch traders, but soon began a campaign to disrupt the Ottawa-huron trade routes. The conflict resulted in the Iroquois wars (1640–1649), and this tumultuous era set the stage for later proxy wars between the British and French, pitting the Great Lakes Confederacy (including the Huron) and their French allies against the British, who were aligned with the powerful League of the Iroquois.

These wars, bundled under the umbrella of several European wars, culminated in the French and Indian war, which was fought from 1754 to 1763. When the British won the French and Indian war, they did not continue the symbiotic relationship that had developed between the French and the Michigan tribes. They considered the Indians a conquered people and proceeded to administer power over them and seize their land. The period between the French and Indian war and the war of independence was dominated by numerous Indian revolts and significant rebellions, such as Pontiac's Rebellion, which united Indians from numerous Great Lakes tribal groups against the British at Fort Michilimackinac. After attacking and gaining control of numerous forts in the Great Lakes area, including Michilimackinac, Sandusky in Ohio, Miami and Ouiatenon in Indiana, and others in Pennsylvania, Pontiac's forces failed to conquer Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. The Indians were worn down by general fatigue by this time, a sense of defeat exacerbated by the fact that the British had infected the blankets of the Shawnee and Delaware warriors with smallpox.

During the American Revolution, the Ottawa again chose the losing side and supported the British, who were now making land concessions and supplying the Ottawa with goods. The American colonists, however, seemed determined to expand westward. The Ottawa maintained their middleman position of trading with both the British and the remaining French traders in the region. When the Americans won their revolution in 1783, the British lost their jurisdiction over Ottawa land in Michigan, but retained their forts at Detroit and Mackinac.

The period between 1783 and the war of 1812 was characterized by a deadly series of treaties in which the Michigan Indians ceded land and sovereignty to the Americans. The tribes of the Three Fires joined with indigenous groups in Ohio and Indiana, forming a pan-Indian nativistic movement that promised a return to a life in which Indians once again controlled their own destiny. This movement was led by a Shawnee prophet called Tenskwatawa, who established a settlement on the Tippecanoe River at Prophetstown, Indiana. Tenskwatawa's brother was the famous Tecumseh, who maintained a force of warriors at the site. In 1811, the governor of Indiana sent his troops to Prophetstown to break up the settlement while Tecumseh was away. Despite orders not to engage the whites, the warriors attacked the troops, who then retaliated and drove the Indians away. The power of the pan-Indian movement was finally crushed during the war of 1812, when in retaliation for the American aggression, the Michigan Indians once again tied their hopes to the British, who were soundly defeated by the Americans.

Promises Made and Broken

The years following this military defeat were characterized by a new stage in the subjugation of the Indians, the process of ethnocide in the guise of civilizing the "heathen Indian." Missions were established along river settlements, and the Indians were encouraged or lured to these settlements with tools, oxen, plows, and other material goods. Chiefs were promised monetary and other resources to bring their people to the missions, and the chiefs in turn gained favor with the missionaries. Intertribal unity disintegrated into intertribal tensions and conflict as the Indian groups competed for American goods and political favors.

Simultaneously, Native Americans were being alienated from their land. Two major treaties irreparably altered the indigenous landscape in Michigan.

The first was the 1836 Treaty of Washington between Henry R. Schoolcraft, the commissioner for the United States, and the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, in which the Ottawa and Chippewa ceded all of their land to the U.S. government, with the exception of several large tracts of land awarded to indigenous groups in lieu of reservations: 50,000 acres at Little Traverse Bay; 20,000 acres on the north shore of Grand Traverse Bay; 70,000 acres along and north of the Pere Marquette River; 1,000 acres near Cheboygan; 1,000 acres located on Thunder Bay River; and numerous small tracts of land in the Upper peninsula. While these regions are among the most beautiful and valuable in Michigan today, these lands represented reservations, and more unfortunately, they did not provide permanent residency. According to the treaty, the lands would subsequently return to the United States after five years unless otherwise allocated. The indigenous people retained hunting rights on these lands until such time as they were inhabited by settlers. The treaty provided yearly annuities from the government, as well as access to certain services, such as schools and missions, and supplies, such as vaccines, tools, salt, and other commodities.

According to McClurken, the period between 1836 and 1855 was characterized by a new commitment of the Ottawa to reshaping their lives and establishing themselves in their new surroundings. They used their annuities to purchase available land and learned to grow crops, which they sold to their white neighbors. They continued to hunt and fish and made handicrafts that they also sold for income. They formed relationships with missionaries who opposed the Indian removal from Michigan. In return for attending church, missions opened schools for children and assisted the Indians in obtaining land and farming supplies. New ties to the white community through intermarriage opened avenues of kin obligations that both reinforced traditional kinship ties and expanded networks across racial, social, and economic lines. Meanwhile, Indian agent Henry Schoolcraft's attempts to initiate the Ottawa removal from Michigan were thwarted when he was replaced by Robert Stuart in 1841. Stuart was opposed to removal, preferring the natural progression of the Indians to a farming lifestyle and assimilation into the local culture.

The process of assimilation was hindered by the incompatibility of indigenous and European American agricultural practices. In indigenous culture, the women farmed, gathered berries, and made home implements such as baskets, while the men hunted, fished, and conducted their water trade. western agriculture was a male activity, and Ottawa men were expected to abandon their hunting and fishing to concentrate on farming and maintaining livestock. Women's status in the community as farmers eroded, leaving them to earn their income in other ways, such as handicrafts or collecting berries for sale. Traditional obligations for sharing food with kin were also shifting in this environment as the new farmers had to sell their produce in order to pay their taxes and purchase items necessary for their new lifestyle.


Excerpted from CHIPPEWA LAKE by Cindy L. Hull Copyright © 2012 by Cindy L. Hull. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Geography and Indigenous People of Mecosta County 15

Chapter 2 Locating Chippewa Township in Time and Place 27

Chapter 3 Farm Families in Transition 47

Chapter 4 Chippewa Township as Rural Community in Transition 63

Chapter 5 Township in Transition 83

Chapter 6 Chippewa Lake as Resort Community 97

Chapter 7 Contested Identities 109

Chapter 8 Social Networks 127

Chapter 9 Social Networks beyond the Community 147

Chapter 10 Transformation and Contested Identities 165

Epilogue. Marijuana Mama 179

Notes 187

Works Cited 197

Index 201

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