Early History

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The land that is now Ann Arbor's park system heard the welcoming greetings of diverse tribal nations of early peoples living in or traveling through here. The greetings can still be heard today in the voices of their descendants, and the land holds memories. City of Ann Arbor parks offer connections to early Native peoples. Some city parks are on or near parts of Native peoples' original travel routes. All city parks sit within the ancestral and traditional territories of indigenous Native peoples.
1931 map of what is now Metro Detroit

This 1931 map, by W.B.. Hinsdale and Eugene Stock McCartney​,  shows the network of Native American trails in our area. Native villages are designated by triangles, mounds by dots, and burial grounds by cross inside circles.

The arrival of Euro-American colonizers and settlers resulted in harsh conflict over land. With the signing of the Treaty of Detroit of 1807 the Odawa (Ottawa), the Ojibwe (Chippewa), and the Potawatomi (Bodewadmi) -- who are all Anishinabae people -- and the Wyandotte (Wyandot) – who are part of the Huron tribe – were forced to formally cede (relinquish) their lands in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.  Other nations who walked these lands and possibly considered them their traditional territories too include the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo nations and the Miami people.  An indigenous-led mapping of traditional territories of tribal nations illustrates the overlapping and multiple nature of the land that became Ann Arbor.

Though large numbers of Native people were displaced in the 1800s and brutally removed from their traditional territories, these Native nations and tribes are still alive today. Through their descendants, these Native peoples live on. 

Michigan is home to the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, who are represented by 12 federally recognized tribes and 4 state recognized tribes. Their 12 federally recognized tribes have sovereign governments and are collectively represented by the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan. The state recognized tribes have relationships with the state government. Language, customs, and heritage of the OjibweOttawa, and Potawatomi have been preserved over generations and have a widespread presence in Michigan today.

As the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, the Wyandot are also present in Michigan and have their own language and heritage. They sit within the Wendat Confederacy, along with the Huron Wendat Nation (in Quebec, Canada), the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, and the Wyandotte Nation in Oklahoma (federally recognized).

Precisely which tribal nations held Ann Arbor within their traditional territories is clouded by many factors. Those factors include colonizers and settlers not understanding well the broad and overlapping nature of traditional territories of Native peoples, treaties not always accurately reflecting the traditional territories of the various Native nations and tribes, and repeated forced migrations of Native people far from their traditional territories. To the best of our knowledge Ann Arbor sits within the traditional territories of the Anishinabae people of the Three Fires Confederacy -- the Ojibwe, Ottawa & Potawatomi-- and the Wyandot, all of whom continue to have a presence in Michigan.


We, as the Parks Department of the City of Ann Arbor, would like to acknowledge that Ann Arbor city parks and nature areas reside on the traditional territories of the Anishinabae people of the Three Fires Confederacy –the Ojibwe, Ottawa & Potawatomi— and the Wyandot. As we work, live, and recreate on these territories we must be mindful of historical and contemporary injustices and struggle for self-determination experienced by Native people, while also recognizing their strength, resiliency, and sovereignty.

Whether you live, work, study, or recreate in the City of Ann Arbor, we invite you to honor, recognize, and learn about the history, traditions, contributions, worldview, and current lives of Native peoples.

City of Ann Arbor and Indigenous Peoples Day

In 2015, the Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to designate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. For more information on the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day in Michigan read here.  ​

Language Conn​​ections

Aaniin, Boozhoo!  This welcoming greeting spoken by the Anishinabae people of the Three Fires Confederacy was often heard in the land that now serves as Ann Arbor's park system.  Anishinaabemowin –the language spoken by them-- can still be heard in Ann Arbor today. 'Aaniin' translates closest as 'how' as in 'how are you?' or 'how's your life going?' 'Boozhoo' is 'hello' with an expression of commonality spoken to those with whom you may share a cultural background and may know the same stories. Other Anishinaabemowin words include: 'moozo' (moose) and 'bagaan' (pecan).  The name 'Michigan' has its origins in the Ojibwe word 'michigamaa' meaning 'great water'.

Relation with the Land

In their ties to the land, indigenous native peoples held and stewarded the land communally. From early on, the municipality of Ann Arbor has shown appreciation for land held communally in the form of public parkland with access available to all. Beginning with Hanover Square as our first public park between 1824 and 1836, the municipality of Ann Arbor has gathered land into the public domain to form what is now the City's park system. Over time, the City has transitioned over 2,200 acres of land within Ann Arbor from primarily private property to public parks and nature areas. This has taken place amid an overarching system of private property ownership that arrived with Euro-American settlers. Communal holding of the land, however, dates back much further, to long before the private property ownership system entered the scene -- back to when the greetings of the Native peoples were the language of the land. Communal holding of land stands as an inherent part of indigenous people's relationship with the land. 

Central to indigenous worldview is living in relation with their traditional territories. They see the land as a nurturing mother to relate with in respectful reciprocal relationship. They carry the land in their hearts on through the generations. In this way, no matter how far from their traditional territories and generations later, indigenous people are connected to the land and, in a heartfelt sense, are stewarding the land.

Native peoples’ heartfelt relationship with the land can be seen in the annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow. Since 1972, the annual powwow has been brought to Ann Arbor as a time for everyone to celebrate the Earth that holds us and to experience traditional music, dancing, and the work of indigenous artists.

It is with gratitude that the City Parks Department recognizes the care given the land by the Native peoples in their respectful communion with the land.  In the Park Department's role as the current stewards of the land we wish for and strive to nurture mutually supportive and respectful relationships with the land and with these indigenous people.

We see the land as alive and responsive to the treatment received. In the early 1900s disregard for the land created dumping sites within what is now Arboretum Nature Area, and we rescued the land from private property and facilitated nature's return. More recently, disregard ravaged the land at a construction-staging area within what is now Bluffs Nature Area. There too we brought the land into the public domain and have been supporting a return of nature, and the land has responded with habitat for wildlife and a place for human beings seeking time in nature.

These happenings show the regenerative power of the land when given nurturing human support. And the land, in return, gives us solace, recreation, beauty, and a sense of belonging, among other gifts. We recognize, however, that we are just beginning to catch a glimmer of the wisdom the indigenous people cultivated in respectful reciprocal relationship with the land.


Today's Native People of Michi​gan

We encourage learning more about the vibrant lifeways of today's Native people in Michigan. There are readily available resources for learning more by dipping a toe in, wading in, or taking a deep-dive plunge. 

Information is available on Michigan's tribal colleges, libraries, and language centers; cultural centers, and museums, and University of Michigan Library collections. There are also links to indigenous, American Indian, and Native databases, journals, and online resources for research.

Cultural centers include:

The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways promotes the culture of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and the Great Lakes Anishinaabek culture. Exhibits tell the story of the indigenous people of the Great Lakes region, and contemporary objects revitalize tribal traditions and teachings.

The Nokomi Cultural Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving the history, arts, culture and language of the Great Lakes Anishinaabek culture. The Center offers programs, exhibitions and special events.

The Potawatomi Heritage Center is part of the Hannahville Indian Community in Michigan and is open to the public. The Center offers cultural programs and events focused on revitalizing the Potawatomi language and heritage.

Resources for hearing and learning Anishinaabemowin –the language spoken by the Anishinabae people—include ​brief introductions to the language to get you started –a few cultural precepts and some basic phrases or a template for introducing yourself to others. Spoken Anishinaabemowin and songs in the language can be heard at Ojibwe.net, which is also home to Miskwaasining Nagamojig (Swamp Singers), a women's hand drum group founded in Ann Arbor.

​There are also resources for learning more about the language of the Wyandot people. The Wyandot language, a member of the Iroquoian language family, had been dormant or sleeping with no living speakers since the second half of the 19th century. Since the 1970s and 1980s efforts have been made to awaken the language, and dialects are now (in 2022) being revitalized in several locations, including Michigan.

Call for ​Native Voices

This is a time of trying to piece together underlying truths in indigenous history and bring them forward into the light of the present. The Parks Department of the City of Ann Arbor feels a responsibility to gather truthful knowledge about Native peoples and make that available to the public via this platform. It is not easy for us to properly cover the history of Native peoples for many reasons. This page is a beginning effort and very much a work in progress. We are actively seeking partnerships with other institutions, experts, and Native people to help us appropriately share and recognize this history. We have a platform and a desire to enhance the visibility of Ann Arbor's indigenous roots but as non-indigenous people with little related background, we are not qualified to be the voice of this history.  We invite and welcome community contributions to help guide this effort.

Sign from West Park with Information about the Indian Trail through the park land

T​hanks go to the creators of the sign for The Native American Trail in West Park – Margaret Noodin and her fellow Native American associates, and Denise Chacon Lontin and Cindy Haidu-Banks and their little buddies (stud​ents from Ann Arbor Open) and big buddies (students from Community High School) in the Little Buddies and Big Buddies program of 20+ years -- for identifying the Native peoples and their greetings and breathing life into the ability of young Ann Arborites to know, practice, and appreciate these greetings and the living cultures they represent .

City of Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation A​rchives

Within each individual park webpage we have added a park history section to share information and history related to property ownership and the records we have in the City along with other public records. These details provide some insight on how each property came to be treasured public park land here in Ann Arbor. Electronic park files are available to the public in our electronic archive found here.  The collection includes Park Projects, Plansets and Historic files that have been scanned and stored in searchable PDF format. Be sure to read the instructions  on searching as using an asterisk before and after the key word is necessary. 


Updated October 2022. ​Email [email protected] for feedback or suggestions.​