Why Were the Saginaw-Chippewa Tribe Involved with the Stone Street Discovery?

Native people have lived in the Flint region for about 11,000 years. Part of the rich environment of the Saginaw Drainage Basin, Flint is located in the upper margins of the basin and this dendritic river system, which includes the Flint River, has the largest number and most densely configured documented archaeological sites in Michigan. The Stone Street site's link to the Saginaw-Chippewa tribe can be traced through the history of European settlement in Michigan, the dispossession of Native Americans living there, and subsequent legal protections for Native American remains that have led to the Saginaw-Chippewa Tribe taking the legal custodianship of the Stone Street remains.

Different ways of Recording History and Boundaries

Because there is no written history for Native people in the Great Lakes region before the 17th century, archaeology provides an important glimpse into the past and history is “written” in artifacts and ancestral remains. For indigenous people, the past is also “written” in oral histories and traditional tales of their history. When Europeans (Wemitigoji) arrived in the region, their maps and documents were imprecise and “tribal identities” are difficult to relate to contemporary people. One early example is Sanson’s 1656 map (see below; click the link to see the entire map), in which the Saginaw region was occupied by the Attistaehronons (Iroqouian language name) du Feu (French) translates as the “Fire Nation”.

Euro-American Conquest and Treaties

The history of the Flint region from the perspective of Native people is fraught with complex negotiations, land grabs, and assaults to their traditional lifeways. According to Ziibwing Center historians, 34 tribes have aboriginal land claims to Genesee County under the 1807, 1819, and 1837 treaties with the United States Federal government. The 1819 Treaty of Saginaw is the most relevant to the issue at hand. By the time of negotiation, Jacob Smith (Wahbesin), a Euroamerican and his Anishinabe (Ojbiwa) wife (Nowabeshekoqua) had established a trading enterprise and community in Flint by 1815. With the support of Neome, the principle chief in the region, Article 3 of the 1819 treaty established a 640 acre “reservation” for his native family in what is now downtown Flint. This was one of several small reservations where Anishinabe of the region people could live and, by treaty, they could hunt and fish on ceded land throughout the Saginaw River drainage basin.

A Dwindling Heritage: Native Reservations

The small reservations of the Saginaw region, including the one along the Flint River (see map below, with the Stone Street site's location marked with a blue star), were lost under the Treaty of 1837, the year Michigan became a state, and in 1855, the year Flint became incorporated as a city, the Anishinabe were forced to leave Flint. After protracted negotiations and court battles, the Anishinabe of the region acquired land in Mount Pleasant, MI where their descendants reside today and are known as the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. It is through an account of complex 18th and 19th century history that we can document the direct ties of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan to Flint, MI and understand the strong ties of kinship and history to the ancestors of Stone Street.

The footprint of the lost reservation remains visible in the county's township boundaries in this 1859 map of Genesee County.

Source: Library of Congress

Legal Protections for and Native American Archaeology and Human Remains

There are also legal reasons that the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe have come to care for the ancestors of Stone Street. Archaeological sites in the United States that are located on federal land or projects using federal funding are protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, Section 106, but sites on state and private land are vulnerable to destruction. The properties on this block of Stone Street were then owned by the Genesee County Land Bank and, since the Land Bank was using funding from HUD (Housing & Urban Development), it seemed clear that this site should be accorded mitigation and protection.

Because human burials were found at Stone Street, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 ensures that the geographically closest and culturally affiliated Federally recognized Tribe are notified and may claim ancestral remains. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe is, by any measure, the appropriate people to care for the ancestors at Stone Street.

Further Reading:

“The Daring Trader: Jacob Smith in the Michigan Territory 1802-1825” by Kim Crawford published in 2012 by Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

“Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan’s Native Americans” by Charles E. Cleland published in 1992 by The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

“The People of the Three Fires: The Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibway of Michigan” by James A. Clifton, George L. Cornell, and James M. McClurken in 1986 by The Grand Rapids Inter-Tribal Council.

Cleland, Charles E., and Bruce R. Greene. 2011. Faith in paper: the ethnohistory and litigation of upper Great Lakes Indian treaties. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.