GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi citizens gathered with state and local officials at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Chicago, which was signed on August 29, 1821.

Ron Yob, chairman of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, served as the emcee of the bicentennial commemoration, which included the unveiling of a permanent historical marker and a water ceremony on the banks of the Grand River. In attendance to commemorate the bicentennial was Michigan State Rep. Rachel Hood (D) who read a proclamation from the State of Michigan and Dale Robertson, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

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The Treaty of Chicago (1821) was signed by representatives of the Council of the Three Fires the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi and Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass and Solomon Sibely for the United States. Among the representatives for the respective tribes were eight Ottawa leaders, two Ojibwe leaders, and 55 Potawatomi leaders. In signing the treaty, the representatives ceded land to the United States. The treaty allowed for the establishment of cities, towns and villages that exist today in West Michigan. While the treaty was signed in 1821, the City of Grand Rapids was not incorporated until 1850.

Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians Chairman Ron Yob (Photo/Native News Online)

“I don’t want to call today a celebration, but a commemoration,” Yob said. “Anytime you have something that lasts for two hundred years, you should talk about the resiliency of that document that ceded the lands. One of the things the treaty did was establish a boundary for the southern band of the Grand River Ottawa, and it reaffirmed hunting rights on ceded land.”

Joe Genia, former chairman of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, offered a perspective that the treaty validated the Ottawa people’s existence.

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“The thing that should come out of this commemoration is that this treaty is a document between sovereign powers. The United States came to us, the Ottawa people in a spirit of cooperation, mutual defense…treaties became the supreme law of the land,” Genia said. “The treaty document validated us as Ottawa people. This is where we are from; we were created here with all of the animals. This is where we are from as Ottawa people. This is our homeland.”

Former Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians Chairman Joe Genia (Photo/Native News Online)

West Michigan remains the home for the People of the Three Fires, with three federally recognized tribes located there: The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians in Shelbyville; the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi in Athens; and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi in Dowagiac.

“I am honored to be here today with the Grand River Bands of Ottawa to commemorate the signing of the treaty and I look forward to the honoring of this treaty that was signed between sovereign nations,” Gun Lake Tribe Chairman Bob Peters told Native News Online.

More than a dozen women and girls performed a water ceremony as the Nimkee Fox drum concluded the commemoration.

Ninmke Fox, Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians (Photo/Native News Online)

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]