Projects > Moving With the Land, Listening to the Ancestors

My mother’s family are the descendants of French fur traders and Native Americans in the Straights of Michigan, the islands and narrow waterways connecting the upper and lower peninsulas and spanning across Lake’s Michigan and Huron. We are enrolled in the Mackinac Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians but none of us have lived in the North for a generation. For me, at first, the decision to enroll was more political than cultural: the Band has spent the last 20 years petitioning for federal recognition and I wanted to offer solidarity in the fight. But over the last couple of years, I have had several profound experiences of reconnection: with the Band, the ancestors, and the land.

In Moving with the Land, Listening to the Ancestors, I want to honor the sacred locations on the island as well as the people that came before the settlers. I hand-wrote all the surnames from the Durant Roll, an Indian census from 1870 and 1907 that was used to determine who was eligible to receive annuities from the federal government following the treaties of 1836 and 1855 where the Ottowa and Chippewa were forced to cede most of their land. I rolled those pieces of paper into beads and strung them on a strand that measures over 17 feet long. I took the strand to locations all over the island and read the surnames in an act that was both ceremonial and performative.

Naming is an act of respect and in order to understand what we value, we just have to look at how we name things. Naming is also an act of memorializing. To speak the names of the island’s native inhabitants is to remember them, and to do so in the presence of the island’s oldest rocks, trees, and mosses, is to acknowledge that we cannot separate the animate from the inanimate, the spirit from matter, or the people from the land.