New project brings together history of U.P. indigenous culture and French explorer

What's happening: A $3.6 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will bring significant educational and infrastructure changes to the Straits State Park in St. Ignace, connecting the park’s Father Marquette National Memorial with the rich history of local Anishinaabe heritage. Combining efforts from local, state and tribal partners, the new development will include the construction of new educational structures and art that will add Native American context to the memorial site. 

Michigan DNRSharing more of the Upper's original history: Father Jacques Marquette was one of the original French explorers of the region, with numerous cities, colleges and geographic features named after him. The namesake memorial at Straits State Park helps celebrate the work that Marquette completed in his Jesuit missionary trips into Michigan and the northern Mississippi River valley.

The grant will help showcase the people Marquette met in his time in the Upper Peninsula, including people from the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi tribes. Through the creation of the Heart of the Grand Turtle Island project — Gchi Mshiiken Deh Minising in Anishinaabe — more information about the people and culture already living in the region will provide additional context and understanding of the time.

What they're saying: “The project has an amazing potential to tell a story of the region that has been missing, a perspective led from Native Americans with ancestral ties to the area,” said Austin Lowes, chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “This investment from the Mellon Foundation will allow visitors to connect with a period of time through the lens of Native Americans that will aid in their understanding of how important the earth, the land and the waters are to everyone’s way of life. This has been a real collaborative effort with the state and tribal partners and has long had the support of our entire board of directors.” 

What's next: Construction on the learning commons, powwow ground structures, and community kitchen pavilion will start in the summer, aiming for a completed project by 2025. Art for the project will be designed and reviewed by an Anishinaabe-led committee, which will also create educational plans for the area. Funding from the Mellon Foundation is part of a $500 million initiative to help public sites tackle the complexity of early American history. 
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