Chipmunk. Image: Tao Wan.

The annual Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indian’s Walk of Remembrance took place on the cool and sunny morning of Saturday, September 8, 2018 during the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology retreat at the University of Michigan Biological Station.

The walk serves as an annual remembrance of the tragic Burt Lake Village burnout on Oct. 15, 1900, during which the Burt Lake Band’s ancestral village near Burt Lake’s Maple Bay, Brutus, Mich., was burned as a result of an illegal land grab (see below). Members of the Burt Lake Band, known historically as the Cheboiganing Band, were signatories of the Treaties of 1836 and 1855, which granted the band property and governing rights that were violated by the burnout and related transgressions. Many descendents of Cheboiganing Band members whose village was destroyed and stolen live near the site of the burnout, while others have dispersed and live elsewhere in Michigan and other states. The Burt Lake Band has sustained a strong tribal identity, is a close neighbor of the U-M Biological Station (UMBS), and is seeking federal recognition as an established tribe.

"When members of the UMBS staff, the LSA and Rackham Dean's Offices, and the Little Traverse Conservancy met in July 2018 with the Burt Lake Band's Tribal Council to discuss ways of commemorating the terrible burnout of the band's village in 1900, we were all invited to participate in the Burt Lake Band's annual memorial walk,” said EEB Professor and UMBS Director Knute Nadelhoffer. “Fortunately, our department's annual retreat was being held September 7-9 and the band's chair and tribal council welcomed EEB's participation. This provided a most wonderful opportunity for us to meet, talk, and share experiences with members of a community that lived and thrived in northern Michigan for centuries prior to colonization. The Burt Lake Band is building a new tribal headquarters and meeting house southwest of UMBS near Saint Mary's Church and Cemetery on Indian Road about two miles north of the village burnout site. If you couldn't make the walk this year, the Burt Lake Band will surely appreciate participation in their September 2019 memorial walk and those in future years."

A number of EEB students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows, staff and family joined the three-mile walk that began at the Cheboiganing Band Indian Cemetery (the only remaining part of the burned out village) at Burt Lake and continued to the second Cheboiganing Band Cemetery on Indian Road. Walkers ventured through the Cheboiganing Preserve to Indian Trail Road and finished at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church and cemetery near the new Burt Lake Band’s office.

Left to right: Ken Parkey, BLB Council Member and Tribal Elder, Bruce R. Hamlin, BLB Tribal Chair, Professor and UMBS Director Knute Nadelhoffer, and Richard A. "Rick" Wiles, BLB Tribal Historian. Image: Barbara Billings.

“It was a great privilege for the EEB department to be invited to participate in this year's Walk of Remembrance during our fall retreat at the UMBS,” said EEB Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil. “We thank the Cheboiganing-Burt Lake Band for their generosity and warm welcome and Knute Nadelhoffer for coordinating our participation. This was a remarkable, poignant and highly educational experience for us and one that we hope to continue into the future.”

A brief historical context
All that remains in the ownership of the Cheboiganing Band after the 1900 burnout is a half-acre of a once five-acre cemetery on the shoreline of Burt Lake. Currently, the former 411 acres of Cheboiganing Band ancestral village on Burt Lake is occupied by private cottage owners along the Burt Lake shore, and by the Little Traverse Conservancy inland from the shore. Some of the band’s ancestral agricultural land is now old-growth forest owned by the U-M Regents*. In 1900, the land was illegally expropriated by a Cheboygan banker and real estate broker. As a result, the Cheboiganing Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians have been engaged in political and legal action to regain their ancestral homeland since Oct. 16, 1900. In 1903, the state of Michigan legislature passed a joint resolution awarding the Cheboiganing Band 400 acres of land (at their choosing) in Cheboygan County. That has yet to take place. In 1984, the state of Michigan gave state recognition to the Cheboiganing (Burt Lake) Band as a political unit.

Recently, in response to a request by John Petoskey (U-M Law and SEAS graduate student) and Professor Joseph Gone (psychology, American culture, and director of Native American studies) that U-M investigate and take actions regarding the tragic and unjust burnout of a Native American village by the Cheboygan County Sheriff Fred Ming and a land speculator John W. McGinn in 1900, U-M President Mark Schlissel assigned the President's Advisory Committee on University History (PACOUH) to investigate the matter and make recommendations to acknowledge this history and to incorporate lessons learned into the Biological Station's education, research and outreach missions, according to Nadelhoffer.

*After careful review of historical documents, the PACOUH determined that the Burt Lake Village burnout site is not university land. Rather, the site of the 1900 burnout is immediately west of what is now an approximately 300 acre parcel of rare old-growth forest known as "Colonial Point" managed by the Biological Station (UMBS). The U-M and UMBS partnered with local organizations and individuals, and the state of Michigan to acquire this forest tract 1987. This acquisition prevented the forest from being harvested by a private company. Importantly, Colonial Point archeological sites that are sacred to descendants whose ancestors lived in this region before European colonization were preserved as a result.

The Cheboiganing-Burt Lake Band is the first Band of Woodland Indians to have a permanent village, Indian Village, in the Tip of the Mitt region. Today, this small band is in need of financial help in order to survive. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit group is established for those who wish to contribute to their building fund. Donations are tax deductible. Please write checks to: The Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Inc. and mail to: Ms. Nola Parkey, 6461 East Brutus Rd., PO Box 206, Brutus, MI 49716. Thank you.

From the UMBS Visitors’ Guide to Colonial Point and Cheboiganing Preserves by Nadelhoffer: “In closing, we ask visitors to respect the integrity of the land that was home to indigenous people before our state and university were established by acknowledging their gifts to us. We respect all who have lived on and passed from this place on Earth and the descendants of those whose lands were ceded. This requires that our programs of research, education and outreach focus on the connections of all people to other living things and to our land, water, and air. Our efforts can be guided by these words, from Great Binding Law 28 of the Constitution of the Five [Iroquois] Nations– ‘Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground -- the unborn of the future Nation.’”

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein.

View more images from the EEB retreat and Walk of Remembrance>>

The EEB group at the fall retreat. Image: Diarmaid Ó Foighil.