Colonial Point Memorial Forest & Chaboiganing Nature Preserve

Burt Lake Indian Village, 1890. All but one house and the church
was burned by the order of the Circuit Court on October 16, 1900.
(Photo: Burt Lake Band of Ottawa Indians)

Cultural History

Evidence of many centuries of human settlement can be found throughout the property. Studies in the Colonial Point Memorial Forest, by Dennis Albert and Leah Minc, revealed many corn cache pits that had been used by the area’s original human occupants to store their harvests. Pottery fragments dating back to the fourteenth century have been found, and soil studies revealed charcoal deposits produced by periodic fires set by native peoples while clearing plots for agriculture. Aubert and Minc point out that the earliest legal reference to the Cheboygan Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians comes from the 1836 Treaty of Washington. Through this treaty, the nations of Indians ceded a large tract of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula as well as most of the Upper Peninsula east of the Escanaba River to the United States. However, certain tracts of land were excepted from this cession and reserved for the use of specific tribes, including “One tract of 1,000 acres to be located by Chingassanoo or the Big Sail, on the Cheboygan River.”

In 1996, Gary Shawa of the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa Indians, gave the Little Traverse Conservancy the following summary regarding the area’s history:

On a map of the Great Lakes, approximately 20 miles south of the Straights of Mackinaw, there exists a series of interconnecting rivers and lakes. This “river highway” stretches from the Little Traverse Bay inland to the shores of Lake Huron and provided aboriginal people an important navigational aid. Located on a small peninsula jutting out into one of the larger inland lakes, (Lake Chaboiganing, as it was known back then) was a small group of Indians who were known by the same name, the Chaboiganing Band.

Chaboiganing is an Algonquin word for portage or “passing through,” and the Indians gave this name to the largest lake on the route through this area. In time, Americans would corrupt the name to Cheboygan. In 1840, William A. Burt surveyed the area. Lake Chaboygan was renamed Burt Lake and the local aboriginal inhabitants came to be known as the Burt Lake Band (BLB). Although often identified as Chippewas, most BLB members were actually Ottawas with some Chippewas intermarried with them.

The BLB were forcefully removed in 1900 by “legalized arson” from their traditional village site on Burt Lake. In late October 1900, a Cheboygan Banker named John McGinn, determined to remove the Native Americans from Colonial Point and establish his claim, obtained tax title to the lands. With the help of the Cheboygan County Sheriff Fred Ming, he moved from house to house within the Native American village, dousing each with kerosene and then set them ablaze. Only the Catholic church remained standing. Many local descendants of this tribe today refer to this incident as the “burn-out.” This removal violated a trust agreement between the State of Michigan and the U.S. Federal Government. The BLB continues to seek redress for this injustice and is currently seeking federal recognition as an Indian Tribe.

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