Our state history is a cautionary tale in selective facts – Herald Democrat
Traverse City Record Eagle
When it comes to storytelling, perspective is everything.
When it comes to state history, for too long many Michigan schoolchildren were told stories from a whitewashed point of view, without all the facts.
Only then could we have simple stories of happy Thanksgivings, kids in construction-paper headdresses shaking hands with those in Puritan paper hats, with Indigenous identities distilled into stereotypes.
Only then could we skip the parts about Michigan’s boarding schools that took Native American children from their communities with the express purpose of erasing identity — and subjecting them to other institutionalized horrors we are only uncovering today.
Only then could history books gloss over how our state truly came to be.
This narrow storytelling is, thankfully, falling away.
In its place comes more facts — from more viewpoints.
For instance, today’s third-graders will learn more than just the date Michigan attained statehood (1836). They will learn that, in that year, the Anishinaabek ceded over 14 million acres — nearly 40 percent of the current land area of Michigan — in exchange for permanent Anishinaabek access to reservation lands and natural resources, including hunting and fishing rights.
They also will learn that the US Congress altered the terms of the treaty after the Odawa and Ojibwe representatives left Washington, and the final version stated that the US government could forcibly remove Anishinaabek people from northern Michigan after just a few years.
That altered treaty gave Michigan its statehood.
Since 2019, changed social studies standards granted a more comprehensive approach to Michigan history by including Anishinaabek contributions — adding facts.
The Confederation of Michigan Tribal Education Departments began working on a resource guide for Michigan teachers to teach to, and about, Indigenous communities in the state.
The result is Maawndoonganan, which means “gathering of information to share with people” in Anishinaabemowin — the first language of our state. The 90-page collaboration includes video, audio clips, podcasts, radio shows, news articles and scholarly articles split up by grade level and related to specific teaching standards laid out by Michigan law.
Tribal education leaders are helping teachers use it as part of Michigan Department of Education’s 2021-22 Comprehensive History Instruction.
Michigan schools — as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) — also required local education agencies to consult with the Indian tribes on issues impacting Native American students with the school system. Legislation also was introduced in early 2022 to do more to teach Michigan’s part in establishing Indian boarding schools, one of many troublesome stories that need to be told.
These are important first steps; there are many more to take as we investigate the stories we tell and the imagery we use to tell them.
Just last month, the Native American Heritage Fund announced it would give nearly $400,000 to four school districts in the state — Chippewa Hills School District, Hartford Public Schools, Lansing School District and Saranac Community Schools — to change their school mascots.
The money will be used to pay for everything from school uniforms to new logos on gymnasium floors, as reported by the Detroit Free Press this week.
It’s not just the kids who need to go back to school. Many of us adults could take a page from these books.
Close to home, Maawndoonganan is being used by Emily Modrall, the project coordinator for the Kitchi Wikweedong Anishinaabe History Project, to work on signs that will mark historical landmarks and history of the Kitchi Wikweedong Odawa before Europeans colonized the Traverse City region.
Finally, we’re adding facts to a story that truly needs telling, a story from our history that started long before our “founding fathers.”