Places to Explore Native American History and Culture
Explore Native American historical displays and browse indigenous art galleries. Experience a live storytelling session, or hear first-hand how a modern-day Ojibwa tribe member preserves her heritage. You’ll find new ways to understand and appreciate Michigan’s history when you see the state’s story through the eyes of its first people.
The Museum of Ojibwa Culture in Saint Ignace explores Native American heritage and culture past and present. Located at the site of Father Jacques Marquette’s mission to the Ojibwa people (and home to his final resting place) the museum’s exhibits trace the journey of the Ojibwa to the Straits of Mackinac and detail the lives of the Native Americans who settled in this region. Outdoors, walk through a recreated longhouse and learn about Native American medicinal practices in the museum garden. Don’t miss the museum’s gift shop, stocked with Native-made art, jewelry and books. The museum frequently features crafting workshops, music, storytelling and annual heritage festivals.
The Straits Cultural Center, formally known as the Fort de Buade Museum, also in St. Ignace, displays some 3,500 artifacts spanning 8,000 years of Michigan history, beginning with its first peoples. Set to open in a new facility by late 2021, the museum’s updated and enlarged exhibits will expand on the life and culture of the Straits’ pre-contact Woodland Native Americans. Exhibits also detail the French, British and others who interacted with Native Americans as they passed through St. Ignace over the city’s 350-year history.
Interpretive signs lay out the long, rich history of indigenous people on Mackinac Island, a story that can be traced along the island’s Native American Cultural Trail. Informational signs lie along M-185, the road that follows the perimeter of the island, and can easily be followed from the seat of one of Mackinac’s popular rental bikes.
The Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House, also located on Mackinac Island, is located within the former home of Agatha Biddle, an Anishinaabek woman who lived there with her merchant husband, Edward, in the 1830s. The museum tells the story of Agatha and the immense challenges through history when the cultures of the region’s indigenous people and those of their European neighbors collided.
The Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians Interpretive Center in Sault Ste. Marie displays art and items of daily living, beadwork and clothing of the region’s Native American people. Alongside the displays are interpretive exhibits, detailing the symbolism and significance of the items and their often intricate ornamentation. Many items also include stories telling their importance to the individual families that donated them.
The Potawatomi Heritage Center, located in the town of Wilson, shines a spotlight on Genevieve Sagatow—Michigan’s first female tribal chairperson—as well as other key figures in local Native American history. Photos, artifacts and regalia of the Hannahville Indian Community fill out the museum, located within a Potawatomi reservation founded in 1884 by a Methodist missionary.
Western Lower Peninsula
Every visitor to The Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center in Peshawbestown is invited to take (and later spread by water, fire or earth) a sacred bundle of sweetgrass, sage, tobacco and cedar, hand wrapped in scraps of fabric and tied with a bow. The practice is one way in which the Grand Traverse Band of Odawa and Chippewa shares Eyaawing, “who we are,” in a contemporary setting on Grand Traverse Bay. Other highlights include the display of the Durant Roll, a tribal census from 1870; a film on tribal history; and frequent museum events, such as learning to forage for traditional herbal medicines.
The scope of indigenous art on display at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City is breathtaking. Of the 3,000 works of photography, paintings, sculpture and other works of fine art, more than half of the Dennos’ permanent collection includes works by indigenous people of the Great Lakes, Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and other regions of North America. In fact, the museum houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Inuit art in the U.S. Traveling special exhibitions frequently expand the offerings, making this museum one of the most important for fine indigenous art and craft. Save time for the gift shop, with an assortment of Inuit sculpture, carvings and prints for sale.
The Andrew Blackbird Museum focuses on the son of an Odawa chief who himself became a tribal leader as an adult. Born in modern-day Harbor Springs in 1815 and trained as a blacksmith, Blackbird later attended college and served as a counselor to the Odawa and Ojibwa nations as they negotiated for veteran’s pensions with the U.S. government in the 1850s. Blacksmith also helped secure citizenship for Native American tribe members. The museum’s displays include historic artifacts including maps, beadwork and clothing, tools and items of everyday living.
In Mount Pleasant, the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways immerses visitors in the traditions and culture—both historical and contemporary—of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and other Great Lakes Anishinaabek people. Fifteen exhibit areas illustrate the joy and tension of cultural encounters involving Native Americans and Europeans in the Great Lakes region. Step into a life-size teaching lodge; pore over centuries-old Native American tools and items of daily living; learn about Native language; and admire intricately-made baskets, pottery, tools and beadwork. The Ziibiwing Center sells a collection of books, media, art and jewelry in its gift shop and the research center helps individuals trace their own Native American family roots.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum tells the story of Michigan’s second-largest city, from its earliest days to the present. Key among the permanent displays is “Anishinabek: The People of this Place,” featuring one of the largest Native American cultural and historical exhibitions in Michigan. Using the words of tribal members themselves, displays trace the history and traditions of Michigan’s first people. Explore hundreds of artifacts, ranging from weapons to decorative arts, from hunting and carpentry tools to traditional clothing and religious items.
Eastern Lower Peninsula
The Michigan History Museum stands five stories high in the state capital of Lansing and follows the state’s long history, from pre-historic times to the present. Its first galleries focus on Michigan’s Native American peoples, detailing the earliest known human habitation of the state and progressing into Native American interactions with early French explorers, fur traders and settlers. The museum features an annual Anishinaabe Heritage Day in September, a joint project of Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes that includes events ranging from music and dance to storytelling and traditional craft demonstrations.
Nearby, the Nokomis Cultural Heritage Center in Okemos works to keep Native American culture and heritage alive through a host of activities. Join in weekly Ojibwa language lessons, conducted by fluent native speakers; crafting classes such as black ash basket weaving and sweetgrass braiding; traditional meals; and a permanent display of artifacts, from spearheads to ceremonial clothing.
In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology includes more than 10,000 artifacts in its Ethnology and Material Culture collection. Artifacts range from Asian basket collections to bows and arrows from South America. But the museum’s collection traces its beginnings to a single Chippewa canoe donated to the U of M in 1840, and it has since grown to include a sizable array of wooden baskets, pottery and woven mats of Native American origin from the Great Lakes to the American Southwest.
Alpena’s Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan offers insight into the lives of northern Michigan’s early settlers, including its first residents, Native Americans. In the “Peoples of Lakes and Forests” gallery, the 10,000-piece Haltiner Archaeology collection showcases items ranging from tools to jewelry. Of special interest are the gallery’s unique copper era artifacts, an assortment of extraordinarily rare prehistoric shale discs of the Algonquin people, and Paleo-Indian spear points.