The status of the Indian tribes under American law was that of nations within a nation. Each of the treaties with Indian tribes was subject to the approval of the United States Senate, just as were treaties with foreign countries.
    What is now Michigan was included within the territories ceded to the United States by Great Britain in 1783. But the land of Michigan was the property of the Indian tribes and was legally recognized as such. It remained the property of those tribes until it was ceded to the United States by treaty.
    The tradition of peace among the Indian tribes of the Great Lakes region was rudely shattered with the penetration of the French and English into the West. Even before the period of actual white settlement, tribal boundaries had shifted as a result of pressure from the Iroquois on the east and the Sioux on the west. The Sauk, reduced in numbers, combined with the Fox and withdrew to Illinois; the Mascoutin and Miami were banished from the region. The Wyandot (or Huron), an Iroquoian tribe east of Lake Huron, were swept from their holdings by other tribes of Iroquois, united in the famous Five Nations. They fled to various parts of the north in 1649 and, in 1680, settled around Detroit.
    Before settlers could legally obtain any land, the government first had to persuade the Indian tribes to relinquish their claims to the land. To the American pioneer, the Indian had no positive effect on the economy. As the fur trade declined and agriculture took its place as the mainstay of Michigan’s economy, the Indian became a barrier to the exploitation of the area’s land resources. What the Michigan pioneers wanted was the Indian’s land; what became of the Indians was of no concern to them.  To the land-hungry pioneers who poured into Michigan during the early 19th century, the Indian was not a romantic figure. He was a nuisance. Bullets, rum, and treaties, hardly worth the paper their terms were written on, were used without compunction to rid Michigan of its Indians and open the land to the farmer, the road maker, and the lumberman. Of all these methods the treaty was the most effective. The commissioners who negotiated the treaties may have intended to treat the Indians fairly, but, more often than not, their recommendations and promises were altered by a Congress less concerned with the needs of the aborigines than the demands of would-be settlers and land speculators. In almost every instance, the Government failed to live up to its obligations. Later, the natives were rounded up without benefit of treaty, and conducted, under military escort, to lands beyond the Mississippi.
    The "American era" began auspiciously. Although the Ordinance of 1787 provided for the government of the old Northwest Territory, of which Michigan was a part, that government seemed remote and indifferent. British influence kept the Indians uneasy and sullen, and there were few American settlers in the region.
    The first Michigan lands were obtained from the Indians by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and a much larger tract had been secured by the Treaty of Detroit in 1807.  The Treaty of Greenville called for the cession of a tract 6 miles wide extending from Lake St. Clair to the River Raisin, as well as Mackinac Island, Bois Blanc Island, and other important lands.  The next cession in 1817 was of a small area along the Ohio border just west of the lands described in the treaty of 1807. Under the Treaty of Saginaw, signed in 1819, an immense tract in the northeastern sector of the Lower Peninsula was ceded. By the terms of the Treaty of Chicago in 1821 most of the land in the southwestern part of the Lower Peninsula south of the Grand River was acquired, while the northwestern section of the peninsula and the lands in the Upper Peninsula to the east of the present city of Marquette were ceded in the Treaty of Washington in 1836. Most of Alger County, in the central UP, was included in the lands ceded by the Chippewa to the United States government in 1836. The Chippewa retained reservations on Grand Island and in the Munising area until 1855. In spite of attempts to move them west of the Mississippi, most of the Alger County Chippewa remained in the Upper Peninsula, and some of their descendents still reside in the county today.  By the time Michigan was admitted to the Union in 1837, only the western part of the Upper Peninsula and a few tracts that had been "reserved" for the Indians had not been obtained. The final major cession, involving the western Upper Peninsula, came with the Treaty of La Pointe in 1842

The 1842 Treaty ceded an area rich in copper and iron in northeastern Wisconsin and the western UP of Michigan. This "Copper Treaty" allowed mining companies to exploit the ore bodies. Although Native Americans had carried out small-scale copper mining for centuries, the Ojibwe who signed the treaty were more interested in retaining their ways of life elsewhere.
ojibwe-treaty-land.jpeg (66 kb)

Source: Atlas of Michigan, ed. Lawrence M. Sommers, 1977. 

The completion of a canal around the Soo Rapids facilitated the copper rush into the region in the late 1840s.  The map below shows the dates and areas of the various Indian cessions in Michigan, in their entirety.

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Click here for full size image (255 kb)

Source: Atlas of Michigan, ed. Lawrence M. Sommers, 1977. 

The story of the Treaty of Saginaw illustrates the manner in which these Indian land cessions were often secured. The incentive for the treaty came from individuals who had visited the Saginaw Valley, believed the area had a great future, and hence were ambitious to secure lands for settlement or speculation. They made their desires known in Washington, and Michigan’s Governor Cass was then instructed to negotiate the desired treaty. Cass then sent word for the Ottawa and Chippewa to meet with him near the junction of the rivers flowing into the Saginaw. The date set was the full moon in September, a time when the Indians had gathered their harvests but before they had set out on winter hunting. Two ships were loaded in Detroit with provisions and liquor for distribution at the proper time, and soldiers were put aboard to protect the negotiators. A council house, which consisted of a roof of boughs supported by trees, the sides and ends left open, and in the middle a long platform with rustic benches for Cass and the other officials, was constructed at the site. Cass arrived on September 10, 1819, with a staff of assistants and interpreters. Preliminaries lasted for about two weeks, during which time anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 Indians assembled. Cass started with a lengthy speech, with necessary pauses for translation by interpreters. In his remarks he made known the extent of the lands that he desired to purchase. Indian orators replied at length, and meanwhile the Indians pondered the question of whether they would cede their lands.
    The tract Cass proposed to buy from the Indians consisted of some six million acres---nearly one-sixth of Michigan’s total land area. The Indians would receive a lump sum of $3,000 in cash, and an annual payment of $1,000 plus "whatever additional sum the Government of the United States might think they ought to receive, in such manner as would be most useful to them." The government also agreed to furnish the Indians with the services of a blacksmith and to supply them with farming implements as well as teachers to instruct them in agriculture.
    The treaty was then signed. To celebrate the occasion, Cass authorized five barrels of whiskey to be opened and the contents distributed among the natives.

It is not entirely correct to assume that the US paid the Indians little or nothing for their land. Up to 1880 the total cost to the United States government of the public domain acquired from the Indians amounted to $275 million, and the surveys of the land cost another $46 million. Total receipts from the sale of these lands to that date were $120 million less than these expenditures. The Indians received for their lands cash, goods, and promises, and often the government agreed to pay annuities to a tribe over a period of years.

(Between 1795 and 1842, Michigan Indians essentially gave up the state.)

Greenville                1795    Detroit area.
Detroit                     1807    Southeast Michigan.
Maumee                  1817    Most of today’s Hillsdale County.
Saginaw                   1819    Alpena-Lansing and east
Sault Ste. Marie       1820     Eastern Chippewa County in U.P.
Chicago I                1821    Southwest corner of Michigan. Equivalent in size to Detroit treaty of 1807.
Carey Mission        1828    Most of today’s Berrian County in the extreme southwest corner of Michigan.
Chicago II               1833    In today’s Berrian County
Washington             1836    Western half of northern lower peninsula of Michigan and the upper peninsula east of and including Alger and Delta Counties.
Cedar Pint               1836    Today’s Menominee County and part of Delta County.
La Point                  1842    The upper peninsula west of Alger and Delta Counties.

Ojibwe cessions
At first, American settlers avoided the northern Ojibwe country, preferring the farming areas to the south. The Canadian Shield underlies most of the region, which has mainly infertile soil, conifer forests, swamplands, acid granite bedrock, and shallow, rocky soils. That combination did, however, make it inviting for resource extraction, and soon the appeal of this land prompted Americans to go after it with as much zeal as other lands in Michigan.

When forced migration of Indians began, some escaped to Canada, while others, in scattered bands, moved north or west before the advancing settlers. The remaining Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi gravitated toward the Upper Peninsula and the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, where, for a while, the pressure upon them was less intense than in the more densely populated counties. Here the broken remnants of the tribes endeavored to adjust themselves to their altered status. They did odd jobs and made souvenirs; they fished and hunted, usually to supply their own needs, sometimes for commercial profit. Many retired to a dispiriting existence on reservations, which, until a recent date, were indifferently managed.

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