Our People, Our Journey
By James M. McClurken
Michigan State University Press | 370 pp | $18.21
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Join the Discussion of this Book »
As I read "People, Our Journey: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians," I kept thinking about a question I was asked years ago - and that has lingered in my mind ever since - toward the end of a presentation I made on American Indians.
I was asked whether I thought Michigan Indian tribes fared better than other tribes from other parts of the country. It was a thought-provoking moment because I know several tribes around the country were obliterated, yet 12 Michigan tribes still remain. I recall answering that "all things are relative, and it depends on how you view them, and I suppose our tribes did better because we are still here."
The truth of the matter is: Historically, every American Indian tribe faced tremendous struggles of varying magnitudes. Most Michigan Indian tribes struggled for their very existence and ultimate "recognition" by the federal government - although, of course, they existed even when unnoticed by the United States government.
Such was the case of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. The tribe's history is presented in "Our People, Our Journey: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians." The well-researched book is written by James M. McClurken, a trusted historian in American Indian circles, who has worked laboriously on behalf of several Michigan tribes.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians tribe is perhaps best known for the advertising jingle that invites tourists and gamblers to "come to Little River for the fun of life" The tribe owns and operates the Little River Resort & Casino, which opened in 1999 in Manistee. Today, the tribe is the largest employer in Mason County. Recently, the tribe purchased the defunct Great Lakes Race Track in Muskegon County with plans for development.
This is a tribe whose presence in the Grand Rapids area pre-dates Euro-American contact. Their villages lined the banks of the Grand River.
Even though, from all indications, the tribe is prosperous as the result of casino gaming, the tribe struggled for over a century for its survival. After Michigan became a state, the tribe moved from place to place for almost two decades. By the mid-1850s, they were placed on land that came to be known as Indian Village, near Manistee.
As the decades progressed, long before the casino, members of the tribe barely sustained themselves. By the time of the Great Depression and throughout the 1930s, the tribe was so poor; they lived in third-world country conditions. Throughout all of the struggles, tribal members maintained their culture and strong kinship, looking out for the well-being of the whole village.
"Our People, Our Journey" brings to life the long history of survival and the strong will of a people that chose to never give up their culture or their claim to their tribe. Generation after generation kept the desire alive to maintain their sense of autonomy as a tribe.
Surnames of modern day tribal leaders are the same as those of leaders five to six generations ago who dealt with state and federal officials on behalf of their tribe.
"Our People, Our Journey" is packed with the history and great photographs of tribal members, who persevered to gain the proper recognition as a tribe in 1994, which led to the tribe's ability to open their casino five years later.
I realize the tribe fared better than others around the country, yet its members have paid the price through the years.
posted September 24, 2011 9:00 am edt
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