Honoring the past and building a future with the Blue Water Indigenous Alliance

In our modern day society we can become distracted and overwhelmed with all of the things thrown at us on a daily basis. There’s work, children, and all of the other things in life pulling us in so many directions. Sometimes it’s great to get away and retreat from all of the trappings of modern day society. The Blue Water Indigenous Alliance seeks to remind us to take time out and turn to nature as they observe and practice their traditional customs in modern society.

The Blue Water Indigenous Alliance formed in 2019, and their goal is to build culture, community, education, and resources. Along with that they seek to revive and sustain the indigenous culture in the Blue Water area. 

The early days of eastern Michigan looked a bit different than they do now. The indigenous people of the time were from several different tribes such as the Huron and Ojibwe — or Chippewa, as the French settlers referred to them, which means “puckered up” according to the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Ojibwe History website. An Algonquin-speaking tribe, the Ojibwe were the largest and most powerful tribe in the Great Lakes area at one point. Living alongside the waters enabled them to become great fishermen as well as hunters and farmers. Wild rice and maple syrup were a staple of their diet, along with fish and local wildlife such as deer and various smaller mammals.

Seeking to keep the traditions and customs of his ancestors alive in the area is Josh Whiting, director of BWIA and resident of Burtchville Township. Growing up in St. Clair and Marysville, Whiting moved away to attend college and never returned to live here, but still considers himself a resident to this day.

“Even though I live near Detroit, I grew up in the area, my parents still live there, my ancestors lived there. I feel like I’m rooted and tied to the area as a result,” says Whiting. 

A wigwam is a traditional dwelling made by forming a frame made of sticks and branches, and covered with birch bark, grass, or animal skins.‘We honor our relations, ancestors, veterans’

Purchasing property in 2019, Whiting brought back the Pow-Wow, which is a celebration where many tribes meet to sing, dance, eat traditional foods, socialize, and celebrate their culture. The BWIA formed out of that as a means to make it more structured, and to continue to revive and uplift the culture in the region.

Upon attending a Pow-Wow one of the things you’ll experience there is the traditional dances performed. The dancers are dressed in full regalia and take place in what is called the arena; the dances can be used for multiple purposes and have different meanings. “We honor our relations, ancestors, veterans. We’re dancing for all those folks that I just mentioned, and just the general comradery, having fun, and eating good food, enjoying each other's company,” says Whiting. 

Some of the foods you can expect to see at a Pow-Wow include dishes such as fry bread, which is a popular dish in the native culture and can be enjoyed on its own or used as the base of the “Indian Taco,” which uses the same ingredients as a typical taco, substituting fry bread instead of the traditional tortilla. There is also corn soup.

“Corn soup has corn, kidney beans, and you can put pork or venison in there, and water. If you wanna put onions or celery that's fine too, but the base is the corn and the beans. The corn is usually not the corn you're thinking of, but hominy (those familiar with grits may know what hominy is),” says Whiting. You may also find buffalo burgers and strawberry juice on the menu. 

There is also wigwam-building on the site. A wigwam is a traditional dwelling made by forming a frame made of sticks and branches, and covered with birch bark, grass, or animal skins. Wigwams are not to be confused with teepees as they are more of a permanent structure than the temporary teepees are.

‘A healthy and meaningful prosperous future’

“Educating our community on diversity and culture to provide a healthy and meaningful prosperous future is something we value a lot here,” says Josh Greer.An organization takes multiple people all working towards a common goal to make things run smoothly, and another individual who helps the BWIA in doing that is Shelley Glombowski, co-chair of the BWIA and resident of St. Clair County. For the past two years, Glombowski has been working with different entities around the local area to help make the Pow-Wows and the organization a success. 

Some of the sponsors and partners of the BWIA are the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, Thumb Land Conservancy, Bee’s Keto Treats, and Moe’s Deli. The BWIA is also working in conjunction with the Port Huron Museum to get an exhibit placed inside for better representation and awareness of their culture and presence in the Blue Water area.

“I’m a grant writer, but I also do a lot of the events as well on the property. My role is to work with the people on the property when we have different projects and events going on,” says Glombowski. 

One of the events put on by the BWIA is what Glombowski calls “A Day at the Sugarbush: Making Maple Syrup.” In traditional native culture maple syrup was often used as a staple in their diet. Typically made from maple trees, it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup after the boiling process is completed. 

There are many ceremonies held at the Pow-Wow and traditions are passed down. One of the teachings that takes place is called The Seven Grandfathers Teachings. The Seven Grandfathers Teachings is a traditional belief or philosophy that ensures the tribes and its people always remember to honor the earth and each through seven disciplines which are love, wisdom, bravery, honesty, humility, respect, and truth.

“It's like a medicine wheel, and it has four different colors, red, yellow, black and white, all representing different aspects such as animals, seasons, and directions,” says Glombowski.

Another member of the BWIA is Josh Greer, a resident of Marysville. Greer is part of the Pow-Wow committee, and helps out wherever there is need. One of the goals of the BWIA is to bring education and awareness to the area about the rich history of the native people and their ancestors. Greer says that they plan on building a community center in the future to educate not only the younger generation but also the adults who may not have a strong knowledge about the history of natives in the Blue Water Area. “Educating our community on diversity and culture to provide a healthy and meaningful prosperous future is something we value a lot here,” says Greer. 

The upcoming Pow-Wow event is scheduled for August 29th at noon, and will be held in Burtchville Township Park. All are welcome and you don’t have to belong to a particular tribe or nation to participate. There is no entry fee, but there will be donations taken.

Read more articles by Harold Powell.

Harold Powell is the Community Correspondent for The Keel and owner of Phantom Pen Media offering multimedia services to individuals and organizations across the Blue Water Area. He is a current board member for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce and the most recent Chamber Choice recipient at the Eddy Awards. Harold is an avid volunteer for the YMCA of the Blue Water Area as well as Bridge Builders Counseling & Mentoring and in his spare time, enjoys spending time with his son, writing and listening to music, playing video games, and not folding laundry.