There is no time like the present to make up for the past.
That was the message the University wanted to send yesterday as it dedicated a plaque honoring the gift given to it by three Native American tribes almost 200 years ago.
As part of the Treaty of Fort Meigs, the Ojibwa, Odawa and Bodewadimi Native American tribes donated approximately 1,900 acres of land in 1817 to the University of Michigania in Detroit. Their hope was that future generations of Native Americans would become educated through the University.
The words of the treaty are inscribed on the plaque placed between the Chemistry Building and the Kraus Natural Science Building. It is one of nine other plaques around campus commemorating the University’s history.
“Believing they may wish some of their children hereafter educated, (they) do grant to the rector of the Catholic church of St. Anne of Detroit … , and to the corporation of the college at Detroit, for the use of the said college, to be retained or sold, as the rector and corporation may judge expedient,” the inscription states.
The University of Michigania chose to sell the land. The money became part of the endowment that helped its 1837 move from Detroit to Ann Arbor.
The University did not officially recognize the gift until yesterday’s noon dedication, in which Regent Kathy White (D-Ann Arbor) and President Mary Sue Coleman participated.
“As a historian, I am often asked by students, ‘Why does history seem to change so much? After all, isn’t the past simply the past?'” said history of medicine Prof. Howard Markel, acting chair of the University History and Traditions Committee. “In 1937, we celebrated our centennial, but only a few years later – after lengthy examination of the historical documents – it became clear that the Ann Arbor campus had a direct and close link to the University of Michigania.”
This discovery not only changed the University’s birthday, but also meant that the land, though not currently owned by the University, played a significant role in its growth and development.
“We do not have a lot of historical documentation about the earliest years of the University. But our commemoration today marks one fact that we do know,” Markel said.
“This once small educational institution with high aspirations reached out in significant ways to the Native American communities in the region, and, more important, these communities contributed in real and vital ways to the growth and development of the Detroit and Ann Arbor campuses,” he added.
Members of area Native American communities expressed their gratitude toward the University for finally realizing the significance of their gift.
Frank Ettawageshik, former tribal chair of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Ojibwe and Odawa Indians, sang a Native Americans courting song at the ceremony and said he spoke for thousands of others in thanking the University.
“Courting is courting knowledge, and to me, that is what this plaque represents,” Ettawageshik said, adding that the treaty involved a process in which both sides would benefit from each other. “It took a long time before that process was realized.”
The commemoration came after years of work and research by University students and the Native American Student Association, and members said they were pleased the day had finally come.
“I think all of us are very happy that the land grant has finally been acknowledged and honored,” LSA sophomore and NASA member Zubair Simonson said. “It took quite awhile for the other side to finally honor their side of the agreement, but that is in the past now.”