Michigan's First People
By Marc G. Van Poperin

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external image us50statesproj26a.jpg1 The first people in Michigan were Paleo-Indians, who appeared in the area about 14,000 years ago. Very little is known about these people, due to a lack of written history. Some people believe that they followed buffalo herds, coming from Asia. They may have crossed the Bering Strait, come through present-day Alaska and then come into what is now known as Michigan. It is known that they used chipped stones to hunt large game animals. They fished and gathered nuts, berries, and roots. They also knew how to make fire. The Paleo-Indians were believers in life after death, as they buried their deceased in a certain way and with food and tools.

2 Some 10,000 years after the Paleo-Indians, another group of people appeared in Michigan. They are called the Archaic people. Like the Paleo-Indians, the Archaic people hunted, fished, and gathered roots, berries, and nuts. The main difference between the two types of people, however, is that the Archaic people began spending a few months each year in one general area. Thus, the first villages were created in Michigan. Another difference was the Archaic's discovery of copper, which they used to make jewelry and tools. Often times they would bury their dead with these tools and jewelry, indicating a sense of life after death much like the Paleo-Indians.

3 From about 600 B.C. to the late 1600's, the Woodland Indians lived in Michigan. Like the earlier tribes, they had a strong belief in life after death. They buried their dead under huge piles of earth that would measure up to 30 feet high and 200 feet around. For this reason, these people are also called "Mound Builders." Over 600 of these mounds have been found in Michigan. But, the Woodlands are special for other reasons. They were the first farmers, raising corn and other foods. This enabled them to stay near their burial grounds while also establishing more permanent villages. Their skilled workers made jewelry and clay pots. They wove cloth with thread made from tree bark. They carved tobacco pipes, often in the shapes of people and animals. They were also among Michigan's first traders, using their goods to acquire things such as beads, shells, and metals for their workers.

4 Around 1630, the first Europeans, specifically the French, arrived in Michigan. Their arrival was met by three main groups of Indians known as the "three fires." We know a lot about these tribes due to the written records kept by the early explorers. All three groups-the Potawatomi, the Chippewa, and the Ottawa-belonged to the Algonquian language group. They were all friendly toward one another and shared the land. Depending on where they lived, they specialized in either farming, hunting, or fishing for food, although it was not uncommon for any one group to be able to do all three. The three groups believed in sharing the land and their food. They also shared among their tribal members the furs that they would get from animals such as squirrels, muskrats, rabbits, or beavers. Eventually, the Indians concentrated more on trapping and trading with the French than they did on farming and hunting.