After some trials and tribulations I now have my project up and running. Nkwejong: Oral Histories and Stories of the Lansing Anishinaabeg community. This is just the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing project that brings together my dissertation work and other collections of materials to record and preserve the Native history of the Lansing area.
The Lansing area has a long history of use by Native communities in the Great Lakes. While there were only a few permanent habitations in the area, it was well known as a place of intersecting trials and a place to gather resources. Some of these trials that ran through the area would later become two of the major highway systems in the state, Grand River (I-96) and 1-27. It is also the place where the Grand River and the Red Cedar River merge. The Grand River is one of the largest rivers in Lower Michigan. At its head waters in Washtenaw County it connects to the Huron River over a short portage creating an East West water route that allows one to travel from Lake Michigan to Lake Erie. This area was a shared space used by Three Fires Anishinaabeg peoples that was eventually ceded to the United States in two separate treaties in 1807 and 1821. Anishinaabeg continued to use the area even after the Indian Removal Act of the 1830’s.
During the 1930’s and 40’s, Native people began to return to the area for a variety of reasons. As the Capital of the State it became the focal point of Government Negotiations between tribal communities and the State. Native people also came here to work and to go to School at Michigan State University. Thus Lansing became once again a place to make a living and a hub for the movements of Native people as they transitioned between different urban areas and communities. Through these interactions and experiences there is a rich collection of oral histories, stories and other materials that are either unknown or underutilized by many scholars. There is a common misconception among many that urban Native communities have lost touch with their language, Cultures and Traditions. Urban areas such as Lansing have become places where they are both alive and thriving. However as we continue to loose fluent speakers of Anishinaabemowin there is little time left to record their stories and preserve the language for future generations.
My project i is dedicating to recording and presenting the history of the Lansing MI, Native American community. Elders from the community call this place Nkwejong (where the rivers meet). The Lansing community has a large number of fluent-speakers. Many of the stories on the site are from these elders and their experiences coming here to work and live. This site is designed to be a place where these stories can be preserved and accessed by the Lansing Anishinaabeg community and as a resource for educators working with Native youth. My dissertation research examines the role of language and linguistic practices in marking Lansing and other urban areas as Native spaces. This site is an extension of my own dissertation work and the recordings I will make with the local community. It also includes photographs from the Lansing School districts Indian Education Program from its beginnings in the late 1970’s and early 80’s through today.
I began this project using Mukurtu, an indigenous archive tool, to create an on-line digital repository for communities to access and preserve these materials. This platform has several important features. Most important is that it gives Native communities control of their cultural heritage resources while making them available to community members who may not be able to access them through traditional methods. It is also tool for the preservation of cultural heritage. However there were some issues with this platform the most important was not being able to have a local version I could use on the Matrix servers. The intent of this project was to create a community based digital repository and currently Mukurtu does not have a version we could use for this purpose. Instead I used WordPress and designed my website using a theme that showcases the recordings while keeping the ability create the protocols and traditional knowledge protections that made Mukurtu attractive.
As I continue to develop this project I am hopeful that members of the Lansing Native community will contribute not only their stories and materials but also a desire to use this project as a way to highlight its continuity through time as well as the changes that have taken place. This summer the group that was instrumental in creating the core recordings and content of this site will begin a project to build birch bark canoes and record the process from start to finish in Anishinaabemowin. NKWEJONG will be a repository for some of these recordings and I would like to create live feeds of the process that can be viewed on the site. I will also continue to add photographs and other documents as they come in and contribute my own recordings from my research. I will also be assisting MSU faculty this fall to create a program for Native youth in the area to tell their stories and to teach them to interview their elders with the hope that these could be included as part of this project.
To check out my project go to http://nkwejong.matrix.msu.edu/
I also want to thank everyone I worked with in the CHI Fellowship for all their advise and help. This was a great opportunity and I look forward to seeing all the work they do in the future.