The Les Cheneaux Islands and surrounding region are the lands of the Anishinaabek, “the original people,” who have been stewards of this land for generations. The Anishinaabek collectively are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. Theses bands, in part because they share similar language, origin story, traditions, and cultures, formed the Council of Three Fires in 796 AD at Michilimackinac after their arrival into the upper Great Lakes. These groups were escaping from continued battles with the Iroquois Confederacy further east. The eastern Upper Peninsula and Ontario's North Channel region has been inhabited by the Ojibwe, whereas the Odawa moved into the northern lower peninsula, and the Potawatomi into southwestern Michigan (the western UP and parts of Wisconsin have additional tribal bands of Ojibwe). Even as they migrated to different parts of the Great Lakes area, the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island remained, and still remain, a significant cultural meeting place for the Anishinaabek. Members of the three tribes would meet here annually — marking an 800 year tradition the existed way before interactions with fur traders and Jesuit missionaries in the mid-1600s (mind you, the Roman Empire only lasted 1,000 years)

The French, and then the British, maintained control of this region until the 1790s, and the United States established the Michigan Territory in 1805. Although in control of a large portion of the Michigan Territory's lands, with the passage of the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, the tribes were acutely aware of the likelihood of being forced to leave their homeland. In 1836, the Ojibwe and Odawa tribes, also known as the Chippewa and Ottawa, signed the Treaty of Washington in Washington, DC and ceded the eastern UP and northern lower Michigan to the United States in their effort to prevent forced relocation outside of the Great Lakes and away from their water-centered way of life.

The ceded lands are a huge swath of the northern half of the lower peninsula and the eastern upper peninsula — nearly to Marquette — totaling 13,837,207 acres (the yellow area on the map). The Les Cheneaux area was ceded by Chief Shabaway, who lived on Marquette Island near the "narrows" at the western end of Snows Channel. In return for the land, the treaty was supposed to guarantee the Anishnaabek permanent reservation lands and perpetual access to natural resources, including hunting and fishing rights. With these ceded lands, the Michigan Territory became a state in 1837. Immediately following in the 1840s, the deforestation of northern Michigan and lumber boom began.

Despite further treaty negotiations with the United States, the Odawa and Ojibwe were forced onto smaller reservation lands in northern Michigan as the demand for more lumber grew and grew through the late 1880s. This area's lumber boom mostly ended in the 1880s. The tribes were additionally subjected to the forced removal of children to Indian boarding schools, including students at local schools like the Hessel School House. Students as young as 6, but sometimes after 3rd grade, were sent away to one of eight known Michigan Indian schools — including Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic boarding school in Harbor Springs, Michigan (operational from 1829–1983!). For the Potawatomi then living in southwestern Michigan and northwestern Indiana, the US Government broke their 1832 treaty and forced many in 1838 toward Oklahoma on a Trail of Death, similar to the 1838 Cherokee Nation's Trail of Tears, explaining why their are some Potawatomi still living in the Central Plains.

The impacts of history are still playing out today as tribes across the United States, and in Canada, strengthen their rights to natural resources, flex their tribal sovereignty, contest broken treaties with their national governments, and work through the cultural hollowing caused by the Indian Boarding Schools. While we cannot change history, we can study history from multiple perspectives, advocate for social justice, and recognize that these tribes are still very much present in the northern Great Lakes region and throughout the Americas. Woods & Waters does offer our respect to indigenous peoples and we choose to invest in our shared responsibilities to this place and these waters.

Pronunciation of Anishinaabek: uh-NISH-ih-NAH-bek (plural) / uh-NISH-ih-NAH-bay (singular)