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Mackinac Island adds Native American history addition

If you visit Northern Michigan’s picturesque Mackinac Island today, you find fudge, horses, souvenir shops, bikes…and lots of tourists. But really, even if you were to travel back into history, it has always been a bustling place.


“Well the great thing about Mackinac, is it has his very long and rich history,” says Phil Porter, Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks. “It was the center of the fur trade, it was the center of the fishing industry. It's been a tourism destination since the Civil War.”


But perhaps the most untold story in island history lies with the group of people who were there first.


“Mackinac has always been a sacred and important place to Native Americans,” Porter explains. “It is the longest unbroken story of Mackinac history. You know the fur trade’s come and gone. The forts have come and gone. But Mackinac as a sacred and special place for Native Americans, it was that way centuries ago when they came here, is still that way today because Native Americans still come here as a place to retreat and to worship.”


Up until recently, this history had sort of settled into the shadows, celebrated mainly by Michigan history buffs and Native American tribes in the area. But a recent collaboration between the Mackinac State Historic Parks and the Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians changed that. Porter says it’s called the Native American Cultural History Trail.


“The road around the island is M185 also known as Lake Shore Boulevard. And we put six interpretive signs on that road that talk about the importance of the straits of Mackinac to Native American history,” Porter says.


Eric Hemenway is the Director of Archives and Records with the Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians. He was behind the informational text that the signs display on Anishnaabe history in the area.


“We tell a pretty diverse story of the Anishnaabe at the Straits of Mackinac,” Hemenway says. “We go to pre-contact history, and we bring it all the way to the present day. And we talk about some contemporary issues like fishing rights and treaty rights, and wars were fought on the islands and just some of the legends.”


Hemenway says he and others working on the project wanted to make sure to get it right: so before the signs went up, the content was first sent to various local tribes to get their opinions and ideas. The six signs made their debut late last summer and Porter says that during their first full year in existence, they have been a success.


“It's obviously free open to the public and probably three to 400000 people get a chance to see that,” Porter says.


To Hemenway, though, the chance to tell the story of his ancestors is a personal success.


“It's a great honor, great responsibility,” Hemenway says. “To obtain this information and knowledge and being able to share it. You know, this is part of the story of, not just the Anishnaabek, but of northern Michigan.”


You can learn more about Mackinac Island’s rich history by walking or biking the Native American Cultural History trail on the island, or by simply visiting