Culture center is fascinating


A visit to the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabek Culture and Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, Mich., is an opportunity to walk in the moccasins of the Saginaw Chippewa tribesmen.

Mount Pleasant, in central Michigan, may be better known for the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, but for my money — the $3.75 senior admission fee — the Ziibiwing is well worth the drive, especially when we can catch the fall color enroute.

The museum that opened in 2004 has two theaters, a café, a gift shop, and schedules workshops throughout the year. But the exhibits that illustrate and perpetuate the seven prophecies that are believed to have been given the Anishinabek before the white man arrived describe in detail the culture diversity and spiritual beliefs of the Great Lakes native American tribes.

Respect for seasonal lifestyle changes are easily identified in the displays that feature life-size figures and dramatic artwork depicting the landscape as it changes from winter to spring, to summer, and to fall in Michigan.

As an example, Digwaagi, which means fall, was the time to get ready for winter by setting up hunting camps, tanning animal hides, and to harvest and dry the wild rice that was a mainstay.

Boon, or winter, was spent in the Boonishiwaaning, a dwelling for extended families.

In Anishinabek society the elders are respected as knowledgeable storytellers to pass the history to children. During the long winter stay it was common to compose songs about the heritage. Men spent time repairing fishing nets and tools while women made clothing from hides and checked the traps set for small animals. Today after-school native dance classes are held in winter to keep children in touch with their heritage

Just as it is today mnookimi, or spring, must have been the most welcome season celebrating rebirth in families and in nature. Babies born during the winter were celebrated in a ceremony. Tribal families in Mount Pleasant hold similar events today in early spring to recognize children. As nature warmed in the spring families moved from the winter lodges to the sugarbush for maple syrup time. The Anishinabek are credited with perfecting the Michigan maple syrup process. The sweet syrup was used on rice, venison, and other wild game and was a prime marketing commodity.

Njibing, or summer, was a busy work season, but was also a time for socializing and trading goods with other groups. In early summer, the men built birch bark canoes and more wigwaas (birchbark) was gathered for cooking utensils and storage vessels. Berries, nuts, and roots were used for medicine as well as for food.

Fish and wild game were dried and smoked for the coming winter and baskets were made of pounded ash wood.

Museum visitors learn that Anishinabek are believed by Michigan tribesmen to be the first people to be lowered from above onto earth more than 10,000 years ago. They lived along the Atlantic seaboard from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas until 900 AD when they began the prophesized Great Walk westward to the Great Lakes, to the place where food grows on water (wild rice). It took several generations to complete the long trek.

The seven stops were an island in the St. Lawrence River, Niagara Falls, the St. Clair and Detroit River area, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron in Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie, Spirit Island and Duluth, and the seventh stop was Madeline Island in Lake Superior, Wisconsin.

The Three Fires Confederacy that was established by the Anishinabek includes the Chippewa, the Ottawa, and the Potawattomi tribes.

The Circle of Indigenous Arts and Fall Festival will be held Oct. 6 in the entertainment hall at Soaring Eagle. Art and crafts to see and buy will be featured and there will be dancing. Homage to eagle feathers is scheduled Oct. 17, 18, and 19. Programs are geared to cleanse the feathers in the museum collection as well as personal trophies. Visitors are reminded to take tobacco that will be gathered as an offering for the sacred fire.

The Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort that opened in 1999 wasn't the first gaming operation of the Saginaw Chippewas. They organized car Bingo in 1972. Those who won honked the car horns.

The museum is at 6650 E. Broadway, Mount Pleasant, Mich., near the Soaring Eagle casino. Mount Pleasant is 80 miles north of Lansing.

Museum hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday, with the exception of groups that make reservations. General admission is $6.50; seniors, $3.75; college students, $4.50; and teachers, $2. Information:

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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