Long before European settlers arrived on Turtle Island – encompassing present-day Canada, North America, and South America – the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, or Ottawa people, had already established their presence in Michigan. The Odawa were nomadic, journeying from the Upper Peninsula and the northern tip of Michigan to its southern region, seeking warmer climes in winter.
Springtime saw the Odawa return to their native territories to harvest maple syrup, fish, and plant crops. When not busy with agriculture or daily tasks, they foraged for fruits, herbs, medicinal plants, and other food resources that could be dried and stored for the harsh winter months.
With the arrival and settlement of Europeans in areas now known as Escanaba, NocBay, Mackinac, Cross Village, Good Hart, Middle Village, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and the Bay Shore Area, the Odawa ceased their migrations. The introduction of new food staples and job opportunities by the immigrants compelled the Odawa to adapt. They began working for the settlers, starting their own businesses, and transitioned into permanent residences, schools, and churches.
However, the promises of benefits to the Tribes by the U.S. Government in the 1836 and 1855 Treaties were not fulfilled. Consequently, Ottawa members from this area began legal proceedings against the U.S. Government to reclaim promised funds.
The Michigan Indian Defense Association (1933), the Michigan Indian Foundation (1947), and the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association (1948) were the three principal groups rallying to unite the Ottawa people politically and bring the government’s attention to their treaty obligations. The Northern Michigan Ottawa Association, an organization, was instrumental in this movement.
Initially identified as NMOA, Unit 1, the Little Traverse Bay Bands started lobbying for Ottawa fishing rights in the 1980s. However, their efforts were denied by the Federal Courts, as they were considered an organization, not a tribe.
Subsequently, the tribe restructured and rebranded itself as Little Traverse Bay Bands on November 29, 1982. Still, their rights were again denied, this time due to a lack of Federal recognition. Unwilling to seek recognition under the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Little Traverse Bay Bands aimed for Federal reaffirmation based on the treaties. This goal was finally realized on September 21, 1994, when President Clinton signed a bill affirming the federal recognition of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.