Native American History & Culture

Waganakising Odawak

The following information and images were provided by a source at the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and is a brief overview of how they came to be what they are today. For additional information about the tribe, its hosted events, and latest news visit their website here: 

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB)

The Little Travers Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB), traditionally known as the Waganakising Odawak, is a federally recognized Indian tribe. The tribe’s ancestral homelands are the Upper Great Lakes, with the heart being Waganakising (Land of the Crooked Tree). Today this is known as Emmet County. The Waganakising Odawa today have approximately 4,600 members enrolled, with the majority living in Michigan. Today, the LTBB Odawa tribal government provides services and resources for its populations, works to protect the environment, and partners with numerous governments and organizations. On September 21, 1994, Senate Bill 1357 was signed into law by President William Clinton. This congressional legislation reaffirmed the federal trust relationship between LTBB Odawa and the United States of America.

The original language of the Odawa is Anishnaabemowin. This language is shared with the Ojibway and Potawatomi nations of the Great Lakes. The Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi together are the Anishnaabek. Within the Anishnaabek are numerous, sovereign tribal nations, such as LTBB Odawa. While many tribes have shared kinships, they are sovereign in their governments.

Little Traverse Bay Bands Official Logo

The tribe has overcome numerous obstacles to maintain its place in their homelands. From fighting wars, avoiding forced removal, navigating forced assimilation policies, and advocating for their rights, LTBB Odawa have maintained a place for themselves and future generations in Waganakising. Dedication to traditions and the land have been instrumental in ensuring the Odawa never left. The Odawa are a water people and being by the Great Lakes ensured the tribe would always be provided for with fish, ability to travel and cultural connections. A time honored tradition of caring for the ancestors, today called Ghost Suppers, is one of many traditions that has kept communities in touch with their traditions and families. The Odawa have adapted over the centuries yet have retained many of the beliefs and cultural practices of their ancestors.


The Creation or Beginning of the Anishnaabek- Various creation stories and beliefs are still within the Odawa communities of Waganakising. Some creation beliefs center on the origin of the Anishnaabek in the east, followed by a great migration that brings the people west to present day Michigan and other locations in the Great Lakes. A shared belief in the migration stories from the east is that the Anishnaabek followed the water, with significant locations being Niagara Falls, the Straits of Mackinac, Sault Ste. Marie and the Apostle Islands. There are many other sacred locations on this journey. Various bands of Anishnaabek would settle at different locations.

To honor and respect all creation stories, no single belief is selected. This timeline wants to acknowledge the history and presence of the Odawa in Michigan before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. The majority of pre-contact oral traditions do not have a specific time associated with them. The emphasis is on the event, place, spirits and people associated with the event and not the exact date. The beginning of this timeline utilizes Odawa oral traditions, as well as archeological sites that have been discovered in Northern Michigan.

The Odawa, Ojibway, and Potawatomi hold a great council at Mackinac Island. Here they decide which tribe will go and settle within the Gitchi-Gumek (Great Lakes). The Ojibway go north and west (Ontario, Western Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Minnesota), the Potawatomi go south and west (Southern Lower Peninsula, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin and the Odawa stay at in the Upper Great Lakes (Northern Lower Peninsula, northern portions Lakes Huron and Michigan)

Louis Adams, LTBB Odawa and WWII Veteran

Odawa villages have historically been located in the Upper Great Lakes, ranging from Ontario to Wisconsin. The heart of the Odawa homelands has always been the western coast of Michigan and Manitoulin Island.

The Odawa trade food, goods and information with other tribes in the Great Lakes, including the: Potawatomi, Ojibway, Cree, Wyandot (Huron) and Nippising.

Sagimaw and his war party is insulted by the Mouscodesh tribe at Seven Mile point, resulting in the subsequent expulsion of the Muscodesh from Michigan by the Odawa. Approximately 1400.

Where to Experience Tribal History Today

Also listed in more detail in our Historical Sites/ Museums section, here are some significant places and museums where you can learn more about the Odawa Culture and History. Please refer to the maps as a reference.

Timeline of Historic Events

The following timeline was provided by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. For more or to follow up on any of this information please visit their website. They provide a digital version of “Our Land and Culture: A 200 Year History of Our Land Use” that provides additional info to the brief list provided below.

Before European arrival to the Great Lakes in the 1600s, the Odawa have called Waganakising home for thousands of years. The Odawa connection to the lakes is paramount to their long-standing connection to Northern Michigan. The people fished, traveled, and utilized the water in numerous cultural practices. The Odawa grew food, traded with other tribes, sometimes went to war with other tribal nations, and lived in seasonal harmony with the world around them in the Great Lakes.

In 1615, the Odawa world would forever be altered. The Odawa made contact with the French at the Bruce Peninsula in Lake Huron. From this moment forward, everything would be altered permanently. European nations such as the French, Dutch, British, and later Americans would all fight for lands, resources, and empire in the Great Lakes. The most devasting thing Europeans brought were diseases, which devastated native populations, including the Odawa.

The Odawa, Ojibway, French and other Great Lakes tribes would war with the Iroquois nation from New York. This war spanned from New York to Minnesota, seeing the majority of Odawa move west to avoid conflict. By 1670, the Odawa and their allies had pushed the Iroquois out of Michigan and reestablished their primary villages at St. Ignace and Mackinac. The war would end with Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.

For over a century, the Waganakising Odawa would fight to stay home. Many Odawa relocated to Detroit in 1701 to help establish this French fort. War with the Fox Tribe in 1711 quickly erupted. By 1740, the majority of Odawa in the Great Lakes were at Waganakising, yet many Odawa lived on Manitoulin Island, Grand Traverse, Muskegon and Grand River. The French and Indian War 1754-61 had a large number of Odawa warriors fight with the French against the British. 1763 was Pontiac’s War, where a large coalition of Great Lakes tribes fought to push the British out. Odawa warriors fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War, Little Turtle’s War and War of 1812. All of this was done to remain in Waganakising.

The years after the War of 1812 saw a dramatic change for the Odawa. Diseases were still prevalent, decimating populations. The United States implemented the Indian Removal Act in 1830, resulting in tens of thousands of natives being removed to Oklahoma and Kansas. The Odawa of Wagnakising had to negotiate two key treaties to remain in Michigan. The treaty of Washington D.C 1836 and Detroit 1855 kept the Odawa home and retained access to important natural resources. While the Odawa avoided removal, they could not avoid the federal, civilization policies aimed at changing their identity, livelihood, and way of life.

During the Civil War, the largest all-Indian regiment in the Union army was from Michigan: Company K of the First Michigan Sharpshooters. Many Odawa men from Emmet County fought in Company K, in some of the most pivotal battles during the war. Their story is a complicated yet fascinating piece of Michigan history. Many of these soldiers are buried in various cemeteries in Northern Michigan.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Odawa endured to remain in Waganakising. Emmet County had the largest native population in the state by 1920. Many Odawa lived and worked in northern Michigan in the traditional villages of Bay Shore, Harbor Springs, Cross Village, and Petoskey. Many Odawa lived on the Beaver Islands as fishermen. The Odawa would hold large pageants and plays for the first half of the 20th century, with the Hiawatha play being the most popular in Petoskey. Many Odawa would fight in World War I and World War II, as well as Korea. The Odawa would also move forward as a nation and government, winning lawsuits against the government for monies owed and fighting for other legal and civil rights.

The Indian Boarding schools were a federal government program of forced assimilation of native children across the country. Approximately 400 of these schools would be in operation across the country, 1879-1983. Michigan had four of these schools, with one of them being the Hold Childhood of Jesus Indian Boarding School, Harbor Springs, Mi. It closed in 1983. Odawa children went to these schools across the country but the majority attended Holy Childhood. This story is sensitive and complicated yet undeniable in its place of Odawa history.

In 1948 the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association was created to purse monies owed by the federal government to the Waganakising Odawa. The NMOA championed other causes, such as fishing, education and cultural preservation. The NMOA was essentially the governing body for the Odawa for over three decades. Pow-wows were still going strong but the pageants were ending by the 1960s. Like the previous generations, many Odawa joined the military and fought in Vietnam. By the 1970s, a battle was beginning in the Great Lakes that would directly involve the Odawa and that was fishing.

The Waganaksing Odawa had fought for their rights for over a century. This fight would continue with fishing, which the tribe reserved the right to do under treaties with the United States. The right was contested by the state and non-native fishermen, often resulting in violent clashes in Northern Michigan. The right to fish pushed the Odawa to pursue federal acknowledgment from the United States. The Odawa met and strategized on how to achieve this goal throughout the 1980s at their historic villages of Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Cross Village. After multiple denials by the government, the Odawa took a different path and pursued federal reaffirmation of their trust relationship with the United States. This was done through congressional legislation in 1994 and made law with President Clinton’s signature. Today, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians is a federally recognized tribe that serves its citizens, works with other governments, and continues living in the lands of their ancestors.