Treaty of Saginaw 200th Anniversary Commemorative Events to be Held

black and white pencil sketch of men standing around one another in the woods

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the signing of the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. This important treaty was signed between Anishinaabeg ogemaag (chiefs) in Michigan and the federal government. In recognition of this treaty, as well as reflecting on the respective treaty obligations and acknowledging the more than 200 years of ongoing Indigenous presence, MSU’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies programIndigenous Law and Policy Center, and Native American Institute are hosting a symposium, titled Edweying Naabing // Looking at the Past and Present. These three organizing units also will host a number of other activities and initiatives throughout the upcoming year related to the Treaty of Saginaw and Indigenous issues.  

According to symposium organizers, “The persistence of a vibrant, urban Anishinaabe community with dozens of speakers of the Anishinaabemowin language in Nkwejong // Lansing area reflect themes of Indigenous survival in urban spaces. We honor this presence as well as the many thriving communities throughout the Great Lakes region. The symposium focuses on Indigenous histories, presence, and futures on Anishinaabewaki and across Turtle Island. In doing so, we look at the past and present to imagine the future, promoting cultural education within the university community and beyond.”   

1819 Treaty of Saginaw

Michigan State University’s 5,200-acre campus is located on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. This land was ceded as part of the Treaty of Saginaw, which was signed on September 24, 1819, on the bank of the Saginaw River.  

The 115 people who signed the treaty included General Lewis Cass, the U.S. Territorial Governor of Michigan; Chief John Okemos of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe; Chief Wasso of the Shiawassee band Ojibwe; and other Native leaders representing bands of the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa Nations. 

older looking map of Michigan with a large area circled in red in the center part of the state
Map of lower Michigan showing 1819 Treaty of Saginaw land cession.

The 6 million acres of land ceded by the treaty covers about a third of Michigan’s lower peninsula and consists of the area surrounding the Saginaw Bay and dipping as far south as a few miles northeast of Jackson and west to northeast of Kalamazoo. The Treaty of Saginaw was the fourth of 11 major land treaties signed between sovereign Indigenous nations in Michigan and the United States government. Today, there are 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan. 

Commemorative Events 

Edweying Naabing // Looking at the Past and Present is a two-day symposium that will take place at the MSU College of Law on Friday, September 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday, September 21, from 8 :30 a.m. to noon. The symposium will focus on Indigenous histories, presence, and futures of Anishinaabewaki and across Turtle Island. It will include about 30 speakers and panelists who will look at the past and the present to imagine the future and promote cultural education within the university community and beyond. The symposium also will address how MSU, and universities in general, can work equitably with Anishinaabe according to the interests and needs of Indigenous communities.  

Edweying Naabing // Looking at the Past and Present is part of a series of programming designed to raise awareness about the history of the land on which MSU resides and how the past shapes our present and future.  

We look at the past and present to imagine the future, promoting cultural education within the university community and beyond.

Also, on Friday, September 20, at 6 p.m. there will be a dinner of contemporary Anishininaabe food, followed by performances from Crazy Spirit (drum group), Ruby John and George Trudeau (Native fiddle music), and The Aadizookaan (Native hip-hop) at 7 p.m. The Friday evening activities will take place at People’s Park, located between Wells Hall and the Red Cedar River, a location that has been identified on maps as an “Indian Encampment” when classes were first held at Michigan Agricultural College.  

A Native Family Day also is being planned for Saturday, September 21, at the MSU College of Law and Broad Museum Art Lab. This is a recruitment event for Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous youth and their families to learn about MSU, to tour the campus, and to meet and talk to Native faculty, staff, and students.  

The Native Family Day will include a panel of current Native MSU students who will speak about their experiences. Participants also will have the opportunity to make art at the Broad Museum Art Lab among other activities.  

More Information 

For more information on these events or to register, see the Treaty of Saginaw Commemoration web page on the American Indian and Indigenous Studies website.