Unless you live near an active reserve, it’s easy to forget that Michigan is home to more than 50,000 Native Americans. That’s less than half of 1% of the state’s total population.
According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there are a dozen federally recognized tribes in the state. Five are in the Upper Peninsula, while most of the others are located in the western parts of Lower Michigan. Many are associated with the Chippewa or Potawatomi.
Here is a brief overview of the indigenous peoples who inhabit Michigan:
The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is the largest in the state. Based in Sault Ste. Marie, it has over 44,000 members.
Brimley, Michigan—not far from Sault Ste. Mary—home to Bay Mills Chippewa Indian Community. This reservation was formed in 1936 during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its members now number more than 2,200.
The Old Desert Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior have a reservation at Watersmeet, which is on the far west of the Upper Peninsula. They opened the Lac Vieux Desert Health Center in 2015, which serves tribal members as well as the community at large.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is based in Baraga, which is actually on L’Anse Bay. According to their website, it is the largest and oldest reservation in Michigan, established by the Chippewa Treaty of 1854.
The Hannahville Indian Community resides about 15 miles west of Escanaba. Like many other reserves, this community thrives on the help of an associated gaming business. In this case, it’s the Island Resort & Casino.
The Small Bands of Traverse Bay Odawa Indians claim more than 4,000 members and are found mainly in the counties of Charlevoix and Emmet.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is located in Manistee. The tribe was recognized by the federal government in 1994.
If you drive the M-22 about half an hour north of Traverse City, you will come across the Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. This tribe was created in 1980 in Peshawbestown, which bears the name of one of the first chiefs.
Do you think you know where the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe call home? You might be surprised (or not) to learn that it’s not Saginaw. It’s actually Mount Pleasant. It is probably best known for its annual powwow and for the Soaring Eagle Casino.
Athens and Grand Rapids is where you will find the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi the head office. With approximately 1,500 members, this is the tribe that runs Firekeepers Casino.
The Potawatomi’s Pokagon Band are headquartered in southwestern Michigan in the town of Dowagiac, Cass County. The federal government recognized them as a sovereign tribe in 1994.
You will probably agree that the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Potawatomi Indians of Michigan (Gun Lake) is the state tribe with the most unusual name. This tribe calls Shelbyville its capital and has been federally recognized since 1999.
Note: We live in a time when it is not necessarily clear whether it is culturally acceptable to refer to Native Americans or Indians. For the purposes of this article, I have chosen to use the term “Indians” because that is the terminology used by the government of state of michigan.