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Let’s take a trip, back through time, to before any of us were born, before World War I and II, before the American Civil War and before Michigan even was called Michigan. What is the story of Michigan’s birth as a land and a people? Most of Michigan’s story is unwritten. It is almost entirely an American Indian story. Almost everything we know about the thousands of years before English-speaking settlers we have learned through Native American tradition and clues discovered by archaeologists. Thousands of years ago, the land we know as Michigan was shaped by glaciers. Long before there were people living in Michigan, ice more than a mile thick moved slowly back and forth across the state. The ice acted like a huge bulldozer, scraping and gouging the land surface. As the ice melted, the water formed lakes and rivers. The largest of these lakes are the Great Lakes, which surround most of Michigan.
Paleo-Indian peoples probably came into North America from Asia by crossing the Bering Straits from Asia to Alaska. Although few in number, Paleo-Indians traveled widely. They followed the herd animals that they depended upon for food and for skins and hides to make clothing.
They first arrived in Michigan about 12,000 years ago. Archaeologists call these people “Paleo-Indians,” which means “ancient Indians.” Paleo-Indians in Michigan hunted big game animals like caribou. They may have hunted mammoths and mastodons, too. They were able to kill these large animals using spears. They made distinctive, beautifully-shaped stone points from stone to tip their spears.
They were skilled at making stone tools. They made stone knives for butchering, scrapers for preparing hides and wedges for splitting bone and wood. A certain type of stone called chert, used in making tools, was obtained from outcrops throughout the Great Lakes region, either by trading or by visiting the quarries. They made bone and antler tools, such as needles and awls. They used these to make clothing from the skins of the animals.They also gathered many different kinds of plants they found growing wild. They ate blueberries, cranberries, cattails and the inner bark of certain trees. They brewed vitamin-rich teas from leaves of junipers, hemlock trees and other plants. They used their skills at hunting animals and gathering food to feed and clothe their families.
The Early Archaic period in Michigan dates to between 8,000 and 6,000 B.C. During this period, water levels of the Great Lakes were much lower then than they are today. Many of the sites where Early Archaic peoples lived are now under water. This has made it more difficult for archaeologists to study the Early Archaic period. We do know, however, that the climate was changing. It was probably warmer during the Early Archaic than it is today. As the climate warmed, some kinds of plants and animals disappeared, and new kinds took their place. In some areas, pine and spruce trees were replaced with trees like oak and maple. Mammoths and mastodons disappeared, but deer became common. Early Archaic peoples learned how to use new plants for food and for making tools, weapons and utensils. They also learned new ways to hunt the different game animals in the forests.
With the changing environment, Middle Archaic peoples of the period between 6,000 and 3,000 B.C. looked for new ways to make use of the resources in their environment. They created new tools—new technology—that helped them to gather food and make things they needed for everyday living. During Middle Archaic times, people began to make new types of tools for working wood. They ground and polished hard stones like granite to make chisels and gouges. With these tools—such as the adze in the photo—they probably made useful objects such as wooden bowls and dugout canoes.
The First People entered the area we call Michigan over 10,000 years ago. They hunted and fished for thousands of years. Despite the hunting and the fishing, the environment showed little impact from their lives here. When the Europeans arrived around 1620, Woodland peoples of the Algonquian language groups lived on this land that would become Michigan. This chart lists the tribes and their approximate Michigan locations.
|Menominee||South central Upper Peninsula (near present Menominee River and Green Bay)|
|Eastern Upper Peninsula|
|Ottawa||Eastern Upper Peninsula, Canada|
|Potawatomi||Western lower Michigan|
|Mascowten||Western and central southern lower Michigan|
|Sauk||Eastern central lower Michigan, near Saginaw Bay|
|Fox||Eastern lower Michigan, near Lake Huron|
|Kickapoo||Southeastern corner of lower Michigan|
|Miami||Southwestern corner of lower Michigan|
- Students will identify Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and the directions-north, south, east, and west-on an outline map of Michigan.
- Students will be able to correctly identify the major Native American tribes and their locations upon the arrival of Europeans in the area that is now the state of Michigan.
This activity assumes knowledge of directional concepts (north, south, east, west) and the concepts of upper and lower (peninsula). Review these using a Michigan map before beginning the activity. (Note that there are no definite areas marked with lines. Tribes moved seasonally and-due to conflicts and interactions with the French, British and Americans-changed locations into the 19th century.)
Provide each student with an outline map of Michigan. Write the names of the major Indian tribes on the board. Using a Michigan wall map discuss the tribes and point out the areas in which they lived.
Have students write the names of the tribes on their own maps during the discussion. (For greater challenge, distribute the blank maps and assign the activity to be completed from memory after the class discussion.)
Questions for Further Research
- Why did some Indian tribes move from one section of Michigan to another?
- Was each tribe aware of neighboring tribes? How did they get to know each other?
At the Museum
- Look at the “Tribal Locations circa 1620″ map on the reader rail in front of the Woodland scene. Does it resemble the map you made in your class? Why might maps of tribal locations look slightly different in different books or displays?
- See the map on the wall of the fort that shows the lands ceded by the Native Americans to others in treaties.
- Peninsula: A section of land surrounded by water on all sides but one.
- Tribe: A group of people made up of many families.
Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards
This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:
- SOC.II.1 All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of places, cultures, and settlements.
- SOC.II.2. All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of ecosystems, resources, human adaptation, environmental impact, and the interrelationships among them.
- SOC.II.4 All students will describe and compare characteristics of ecosystems, states, regions, countries, major world regions, and patterns and explain the processes that created them.
- Cleland, Charles E. Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan’s Native Americans. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.
- Clifton, James A., George L. Cornell, and James M. McClurken. People of the Three Fires. Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids Inter-Tribal Council, 1968.
- Farm Bureau Insurance Group. Early Indians of Michigan. Lansing, MI: Farm Bureau Insurance Group, n.d.
- Halsey, John R. (Editor). Indians in Michigan. Great Lakes Informant, Series 2, Number 10. Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of State, History Division, 1984.
- Sturtevant, William C. (Editor). Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.
- Tanner, Helen Hornbeck (Editor). Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.
Please contact staff at the Michigan Historical Center with questions, concerns, and requests for educational content.Contact