Native Tribes in Detroit

For thousands of years, the Detroit River has been a popular rendezvous for many people, namely the Native Americans who were inhabitants of Michigan for a long time. Back then, Detroit’s geographical attributes were very aesthetic and consisted of living conditions that were ideal for people to not only live there but to prosper. The city consisted of “an open land of rich soil, forests and grasses. Large fruit trees like crabapple and black cherry grew wild. Animals such as squirrels, muskrats, beavers, deer and bear roamed free and fed on the grasses, while swans, turkeys, quail, geese, doves and other birds traveled in flocks. The Detroit River was a clear flowing waterway, and schools of fish jumped in and out of the water” [1]. The aesthetic wildlife, rich land, and good drinking water attracted the Anishinabek, otherwise known as the People of the Three Fires or the Council of Three Fires.

The word, Anishinabek, literally means “first-,” or “original people.” The People of Three Fires consists of three distinct groups of people – the Ojibwa (Chippewa), the Odawa (Ottawa), and the Bodowadomi (Potawatomi). These three groups communicate in an Algonquian language and share a similar heritage to bestow upon their culture, beliefs, and knowledge to their ancestors. The People of Three Fires was a very transient council who lived briefly from one place to another. These Native Americans were hunter-gatherers and settled in locations depending on what season it was and what resources they were able to obtain (hunting wildlife, gathering fruit, nuts, and plans, fishing). It was not long before the People of Three Fires reached Detroit. “Our people traveled until we found wild rice growing on the water and we knew we were home” [2]. While the Ojibwa lived on the eastern shore of Lake Superior, Potawatomi lived in southwestern Michigan, and the Ottawa lived on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.

The Council of Three Fires developed trade routes that reached as far east of the U.S. as far as the Atlantic Ocean. As a wealthy and respected Native American tribe, they also established trade routes with the French and English. However, in 1754, the Seven Years war occurred between Britain and France, also known as the French and Indian War. Some of the Odawa or Ottawa nations were defending their lands from Great Britain by joining an alliance with the French. Some joined sides with the English. Nevertheless, the English won the war and caused the French to move away.

The Treaty of 1807 was signed on November 17, 1807 by the governor of Michigan. It stated that the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi would cede land in southeastern quarter of the lower Michigan Peninsula and part of Ohio north of Maumee River. The tribes retained small pieces of their land within this territory. Not long after, another treaty was signed on our lands. The U.S. government was interested in this land and subsequently brought a new treaty for the Indians to sign in 1836. In 1837, Michigan was formed as a result of the lands given from the tribes. “Two thirds of the land that is now the State of Michigan was ceded in that treaty. The people reserved lands for their own use and the use of the ceded lands. The people reserved their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in this Treaty” [2]. Then, in 1855, the U.S government brought another treaty to the people, stating that the remaining one third of what is now Michigan be relinquished to the United States Government.

Works Cited

  1. Detroit Historical Society “Encyclopedia of Detroit”. (2016). Retrieved from:
  2. “Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians -.” Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians -. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <;.