You all probably realize that today is Columbus Day, but did you also know it's also Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Native Americans lived in the Frankenmuth area long (approximately 14,000 years) before its first German settlers came in 1845. They were organized into one group, but went by many names. Today, they are most commonly referred to as the “Chippewa” or “Ojibwe,” names specific to Native American groups in this region. They also refer to themselves as the “Anishinaabe,” meaning, “the first one lowered from above and placed on Mother Earth.”
The Anishinaabe typically lived in small bands, usually consisting of 5 to 25 families, who sustained themselves by hunting, fishing, gathering berries, and harvesting wild rice and corn. Their religion was also extremely sophisticated. They thought of themselves as being one of many elements of nature, rather than apart from it. They believed that a Great Spirit, Kitchi Manitou, created the heavens and earth, and then summoned lesser spirits to control the wind, water, and natural environment. Anishinaabe preserved their culture through word of mouth and passed it down for centuries.
In 1819, territorial Governor Lewis Cass negotiated the Treaty of Saginaw with the Anishinaabe. The treaty signed over a large swath of land for the price of $3,000, and the promise of $1,000 to be paid annually.
By the time that Frankenmuth’s first German settlers came to the region, most of the Anishinaabe were already living elsewhere. By all accounts, those that remained maintained friendly relations with the earliest German settlers. In fact, our collection holds oral histories of some of these encounters. Frankenmuther Anita Boldt (1911-2003) recalled in her memoirs,
“My Great-Grandparents also lived in a log house for a number of years after they came to Frankenmuth from Germany. Their property was in the area across the road from our present public schools. This entire area was still virgin forest and wilderness that they had to clear, so they would be able to plant crops and survive. Great-Grandmother finally had a little plot cleared for her garden. She had a little hand-hewn table between her log house and garden, where she would clean her vegetables before bringing them inside. One warm sunshiny day she sat outside at her table peeling potatoes when she heard a noise in the brush that still was all around their property. She looked up and saw about twenty Indians standing there and watching her. Nobody was around, she was all alone. Great-Grandfather was out in the fields. So she waved for them to come and as she entered her little cabin they followed. She had some bread that morning and there was meat in the cabin. So she gave them all something to eat. When they were finished they started to leave and kept saying, “Bushee-ni-Kawnee,” till they disappeared into the wood. When an interpreter came along some time later, she asked him what they said. He said that it means, “Thank you dear friends, Thank you dear friend.” A few weeks later, Great-Grandmother got up early in the morning to get a pail of water to make coffee for breakfast. As shen opened the door, she found a big hunk of venison on the step. She smiled and said, “I know where this comes from. My dear friends were back, but did not care to disturb me during the night, but left this meat to pay me back for feeding them.”
On May 30, 1983, an estimated 450 people gathered despite the rain. For what? To dedicate a memorial to the Anishinaabe. The 90-minute dedication program included speeches and cultural presentations by the Chippewa Indian tribe, its funders, and the Mayor of Frankenmuth. Designed by Harold and Larry Eckert of Frankenmuth, the memorial incorporates many aspects of Chippewa life. You may visit the Chippewa memorial near the Rose Garden and Memorial Park at:
830 E. Tuscola Street
Frankenmuth, MI 48734
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