(Potawatomi Native Americans Fish and Hunt at Bald Eagle Lake)

By Roger Duval

Sometimes we have to go back in history to appreciate the resources that that we now enjoy. I was intrigued by the findings that were made by some of the children around Bald Eagle Lake. From the 1950s to the mid1990s Sandy Gunow, and then his daughter, Genna, found arrow-heads on the hill at the south end of the lake. I looked for them too, in vain, before the homes were built on the property on Bald Eagle Lake Rd. at the south end of the lake in the late 1990s. In fact the Lamb family, who owned a cottage on Sunset Ave. prior to the mid 1980s, had a collection of over a dozen arrow-heads. Mary Healy, who lives on the hill above Sunset Ave., told me that when she was growing up on Oak Hill Rd. they would find arrow-heads in the fields further south, between Reese Rd. and Allen Rd. This information has intrigued me and finally I decided to research the history of Native Americans and their relationship to Bald Eagle Lake.

Much of the history of Native Americans was told to grandmothers who became the historians. No written records were kept as the history was passed on by word. Fortunately, the ancestors recorded their recollections and accumulated knowledge.

Native Americans settled in the Great Lakes Basin 12,000 years ago
The Native Americans who settled in the Great Lakes Basin 12,000 years ago consisted of three nations that shared the same basic language. The Algonquian-speaking group, known as The Three Fires, split at the Straits of Mackinac around 1600. These three nations were the Ojibwa, also known as the Chippewa, the Ottawa and the Potawatomi. The Ottawa became known as The Keepers of the Trade. The Chippewa became known as The Keepers of the Faith. The Potawatomi became known as The Keepers of the Fire. Though I’d thought the group would be related to Chief Pontiac, this was not the case. Chief Pontiac was raised as Ottawa even though his father was a Chippewa. The Ottawa were more of a nomadic people. A friend, who is a Chippewa tribal judge, told me that the tribe around Bald Eagle Lake were most likely Potawatomi, based upon the activities that have been discovered. Now that I had the correct tribe I was able to do a more detailed search.

Arrival of the Potawatomi
It is assumed that the Potawatomi arrived at Bald Eagle Lake in the 1600s. Dixie Highway was known as an old Indian trail. Ortonville Rd. may have been a pathway connecting the community from the Rochester area where traces of Potawatomi farming were also found. They fished on the Clinton River and Kearsley Creek. They practiced and were highly dependent on community farming. They tended to stay in one place for long periods of time. They grew maize (corn), squash and beans as their staple crops. Corn (maize) was actually introduced to Europeans by the Native Americans.

Potawatomi agriculture
The Potawatomi took their agriculture a step further and in time were known for their medicinal herb gardens. Sumac berries were boiled for a lemonade-type tea. Raspberries were also boiled for a tea that removed tartar from teeth and the leaves were mixed into a paste and applied to sores. Cattail roots and stems were eaten. The flowers were used for diaper lining and the leaves for weaving. All of these plant species still can still be found around Bald Eagle Lake.

Agriculture was an extension of the women’s role as gatherers, but other than clearing the fields, the men remained hunters and warriors. This would explain the finding of arrowheads between the south end of the lake and Oak Hill Rd. Several worked fields were reported by early settlers south of Rochester, along the southern bank
of the Clinton River. There are two Indian burial grounds in the Ortonville area.

Using the water
The Potawatomi took advantage of Oakland County’s lakes and streams. It is very likely that a smaller group that compromised a clan system resided at Bald Eagle Lake. From these waters they added fish, beaver, turtles, snails and crayfish to their diet. Their fishing gear included bone fishhooks, notched pebble net sinkers and nets woven from milkweed, swamp ash and tree bark.

Hair styles
Warriors wore their hair long except in times of war, when they shaved their heads except for a scalp lock to which they added an upright roach of porcupine with and eagle feather. This is another fact that connects Bald Eagle Lake since the island was a nesting site of Bald Eagles. Women’s hair was parted in the middle with a single long braid behind. It would be nice to end this tale on such a pleasant recount but hardship lay ahead.

In general, the women farmed and the men hunted, fished, and fought. Much of the fighting that took place in these early years was among rival tribes, although the Potawatomi did join Chief Pontiac’s attack on Fort Detroit. Chief Pontiac decided on a return to traditional native values and a rejection of the white man’s trade goods for his people. That meant getting rid of the British in 1763. The uprising collapsed after the failure to take Fort Detroit. Chief Pontiac was forced to flee to Indiana. In 1764 the Potawatomi attended a conference and made peace with the British.

Losing control
The alliance with the British ended after the War of 1812. Faced with an overwhelming military force, the Potawatomi ended their last war with the Americans. While the War of 1812 is generally thought to have ended in a stalemate between Great Britain and the United States, for the Native Americans it was total defeat. The Americans now got down to the business of taking native land. Because the Potawatomi were located north of early settlements, they did not lose much of their land until 1821. They signed a treaty at Fort Wayne in 1807 that ceded the southeast quarter of lower Michigan where the Potawatomi for the first time were required to lose some of their own land.

A reading of the Treaty With The Potawatomi dated September 20, 1828 shows a long list of x-marked signatures for Native Americans with names such as Wa-sai-ka, Mee-kee-sis and Non-ai. This particular treaty had them give up land covering a large portion of Lower Michigan for such items as tobacco, iron and steel. Some land was granted to the Potawatomi. One hundred dollars in goods were to be paid annually to their chief, To-pen-i-be-the. My friend, the Chippewa tribal judge, told me he took up jogging while studying history at the University of Michigan to vent his frustrations on the discovery of the treatment that was given to his ancestors.

White settlers move in
The first white settlers to the area arrived from New York between 1835 and 1837 so they may have encountered the end of the reign of the tribes that were living along Bald Eagle Lake. Amos Orton, the founder of Ortonville, arrived in 1839. There is no mention of his meeting with any Native Americans.

The Indian Removal Act
The Indian Removal Act of the 1830s and 1840s is said to have been the most devastating legislation in the history of Potawatomi politics. Members of the Potawatomi nation were forced to move to reservations that were located in Kansas. Some remained behind and hid for many years. Laws were passed as late as 1870 to force their removal but were never enforced. The government relented in 1845 when President Polk signed a bill giving 40 acres of public lands in southeast Michigan to the Potawatomi, and another 80 acres
was added in 1848.

In 1924 the Potawatomi became citizens and the federal tribal status was officially terminated in 1902. They were successful in regaining their federal recognition in 1995. There is nothing to indicate whether or not the Potawatomi ever attempted to claim the land area around Bald Eagle Lake.

The Potawatomi were the first to practice good conservation on Bald Eagle Lake. Let us remember their culture and reverence for the environment when we consider our own impact on the lake.

etokmitek beshkno mbes
(Peace Bald Eagle Lake)