Explore an Eighteenth-Century Fort

Posted by jdg | 11:19 AM

This summer my kids have taken a major interest in American Indian culture, so we have been learning a lot about Michigan tribes since school let out. We've made a lot of native crafts and (of course) my son has has homemade buckskin pants, a loincloth, and other articles for imaginative play. I don't really want to share much of it (mostly because I don't want to deal with accusations of cultural appropriation. I have done my best to make sure that my kids understand that there are many American Indian cultures and we've focused our crafts and readings on the Huron, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi people who have lived in Michigan for many hundreds of years. Months ago we went to the big used book store in town to find some relevant reading material and my son picked out a souvenir sketchbook from Fort Michilimackinac that talked a lot about the tribes that traded there. He loved it. When we were up north recently we went to see the fort in real life while his sister spent the day with her cousin.

Fort Michilimackinac was constructed by the French to facilitate trade in the region back in 1715, and reconstructed a couple hundred years later. Other than a few costumed interpretors, we pretty much had this amazing place all to ourselves.

Outside the fort's timber walls, a small Indian village showed visitors the crafts and dwellings of the people who came from all over Canada, Wisconsin, and Michigan to trade there. As we approached, my son was awestruck to see a costumed interpreter standing in front of a birchbark canoe. He was an elderly man with a full-head of white hair and my boy was so excited he could hardly speak. Feeling a bit sheepish about the kid's homemade tomahawk and wooden knife, I started explaining how he had been learning about "the people of the three fires" all summer and how I had been reading him stories about the manitous and Nanaboozhoo and he looked at me like I had three heads. He gave us his spiel and I asked him all kinds of questions and the only one my son asked was what his name was (I have since forgot, but I heard the boy repeating it to himself many times after we left).  As we walked away another family approached, and the mother shouted at him, "Are you real?" and I cringed. He responded with a good-natured, "I think I am." And both parties laughed heartily. God, political-correctness is so boring.

We saw the redcoats fire their rifles, and a cannon-firing demonstration. We met a voyageur and wandered through all the buildings and must have walked around the ramparts five times.

One of my goals this summer has been to teach my kids about the history of where they live, and exploring the fort was a great way to make some of the things we'd talked about feel real.

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