Thursday, April 21, 2016

Life Giver: The St. Joseph River

    The St Joseph River is certainly not one of the most well known and exciting rivers in the country but I’ve come to learn that over the course of time it wields an awful lot of clout and influence as it meanders some two-hundred miles mostly through Southwest Michigan.

    The uncanny thing is who would have guessed within its path rest a phenomenal legacy way before history had any meaning. I wonder, why we as a populace appear so vacant or maybe even casual in referencing the extensive aspect of this waterway not to mention the potency of its regenerating nature. Turn to the person closest to you and ask where do we get our water?  Do you know the history represented along its banks?  Most importantly, why do so many archaeologists, historians and ethnographers exalt the river’s presence and function along with the Native people who were nourished by it in copious ways throughout millennia prior to ever seeing the face of one French settler. 

     As the semester rapidly comes to a close, I have the distinct pleasure in pulling up the rear- so to speak- in blog entries by my student colleagues in Dr. Michael Nassaney’s Community in Anthropology course. I personally have in the past met this topic with indifference at least, and tepid concern at most, not knowing how to pose relevant questions, all the while soon learning that the work is rather tedious and at times presents a frustrating path in researching the topic on the importance of the river in the history of Native Americans before and around the time Fort St. Joseph was fully functioning during the fur trade. 

"Jacklighting" for fish from birch bark canoes
    My project partner, Alicia Gregory and I have admittedly just begun in the grand scheme of researching the lives of indigenous peoples along with their past use and relationship to the river.  In working with our community partner, Marcus Winchester, Cultural Director of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, along with WMU history professor José Brandão and geographer Alison Kohley we’ve located key aspects of how a waterway is akin to an artery of life coursing through the landscape.  Dozens upon dozens of villages ranging from large to small have dotted the St. Joseph River basin. Two hundred Native men lived across the river from the Fort.  From archeological data we investigated the abundant riverine resources -some current day Native staples- among the various fish and wild vegetation not only for food but medicine.  Also essential is the importance of agriculture, such as maize cultivation.  Their canoes have been crafted with technological expertise used as transportation in hunting, fishing and trade.

    Water holds a highly spiritual and layered meaning within the rituals, beliefs and ceremonial traditions of the Anishinabek, Native culture. It is the province of women who see it as the giver of life, and its restorative properties the life blood of Mother Earth that need protection from harm and exploitation.  

-Carole Davenport

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Resources of the St. Joseph River

My name is Samantha Sprague, and like my fellow classmates that have posted before me, I am a WMU student and a part of Anthropology in the Community for the Spring 2016 semester. I am a Biology Major and Anthropology Major at the moment, but plan to change to being an Anthropology Major and Biology Minor.  Our class has been tasked with creating panels to expand the education and interest in the history of the archaeological site of Fort St. Joseph. Topics including transportation, industry, native uses, modern uses and the resources that are provided by the river. Knowledge on these topics has been acquired through speaking with community members, going through historical documents and maps, and through extensive research on our part.

Natives gathering rice
            My partner, Anne, and I are working on the importance of the vast resources that are provided by the St. Joseph River and their importance to both the Natives that once lived in the area as well as to the settlers who came and stayed at the fort. While there are many river resources we could bring up, we have focused our study down to plants and animals that have left archaeological evidence at the fort and surrounding area. These include plants such as wild rice and cattails, to animals such as lake sturgeon, muskrat, beaver, clams and aquatic birds. So far through our research Anne and I have found that these resources were important as both a source of food but also in the fur trade between the settlers and the Natives and was important in creating bonds between these two groups. The river was and still is an important resource for the people living around it.  We are still doing some research, but for the most part, our class is beginning to wrap things up and prepare our panels for August!


-Samantha Sprague

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fun on the River

Dragon Boat on the St. Joseph River
Hello Everyone!  My name is Dion Wright and I am an undergraduate student at WMU majoring in Criminal Justice and Anthropology.  I am currently enrolled in Dr. Nassaney’s class “Anthropology in the Community” (ANTH 5030) and in the class we have selected different topics to research pertaining to the St. Joseph River.  Some students are looking at various forms of transportation, Native uses of the river, and the way industry has relied on the river.  I have been tasked with highlighting recreational uses of the St. Joseph River and I can say the river has a lot to offer.  We have gained our knowledge through various means, including oral accounts, town histories, independent studies, speaking with community partners, visiting museums, reviewing published accounts and more. 

While conducting my research I have found that the river provides a multitude of fun and exciting opportunities.  Anyone is welcome to enjoy the benefits of the river in terms of fishing, casually observing, or even having a picnic along the river.  While those are some events that can occur among family and friends, there is also an annual community event called “Trails and Ales” that provides an excellent opportunity to partake in activities in and along the river and allows citizens of Niles to meet others in the community.  Trails and Ales is an event in Niles(formally known as “Riverfest”) that host activities such as fishing contests, dragon boat races, barbecue contests, car shows and more.  Whether you’re looking for a great bonding opportunity amongst family, fun with friends, looking to meet other citizens of Niles, or looking for a place to enjoy the company of a date, the St. Joseph River provides ample opportunity for just that.  With that said, if you are a member of the Niles community I strongly encourage you to visit the St. Joseph River at your earliest convenience as many fun and memorable experiences await you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

History Loves Company

My name is Meg Truesdell. Like the other contributors to this blog, I am a student at Western Michigan University. I am a senior with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Global Studies. This semester my classmates and I are authoring informational panels that illustrate the many aspects of the St. Joseph River and the surrounding community of Niles, MI. The panels will be presented to the public in August of 2016. It has become clear throughout the semester that the Niles area is rich with history especially surrounding Fort St. Joseph.

Absorbing history about the area has been a delightful part of the required research that myself and my group mates, Antonio Wheeler and Dion Wright, have been conducting. Our group, however, is responsible for educating the public about the contemporary uses of the River. We have been focusing on three areas specifically: Water quality, energy and dam usage on the river, and recreational uses of the river.

Commemorative Boulder at Fort St. Joseph 
On Monday evening I took a drive to Niles with the intention of doing some exploring. Explore, I did. I had the opportunity to read the Michigan Historic Site plaque about Fort St. Joseph, see Father Allouez’s memorial, and also to get a closer look at the Niles dam and the hydroelectric power plant attached to it. Though I was only immersed in the community of Niles for a short evening, I left with a very clear sense of how Niles’ rich history has shaped many contemporary aspects of the community.

Though it was a chilly evening, I saw people walking along the river and taking in the sights. The dam was raging with water being condensed and directed to the plant which powers the French Paper Company, just as it has since 1871, providing jobs and industry in the community from historical times to now.

The contemporary uses of the St. Joseph River are varied and many. Each use is undeniably and directly linked to the vivid history of the area. I don’t know about you, but that sure makes me want to learn more!

Tune in in August to do just that.


- Meg Truesdell

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Water Quality in the St. Joseph River

Hello Community,

            My name is Antonio Wheeler and I am a senior at Western Michigan University. I am majoring in biology and have recently decided to minor in anthropology. I am now registered in Dr. Nassaney’s Anthropology in the Community class. Our goal as a class is to provide research and design services to promote anthropological knowledge about the St. Joseph River community. This will include economic, social, political and recreational roles of the rivers and waterways. In August, our research will be displayed in a panel at Fort St. Joseph open house.

            My group including Megan, Dion and I were chosen to research contemporary uses of the St. Joseph River in today’s community. Our subtopics will explore issues such as dam usage as an energy source, recreational use, and water quality and how the community chooses to use them. To gain more information about the subject, we will meet with Community Development Director in Niles, Sanya Philips. This will give us relevant information to use on our panel board. My focus within the group is to research water quality in the St. Joseph River.

            I am exploring if the water is good enough to drink and use on a daily basis. I will look at how the community gets their water, either directly from the river or does it come from some other water source. I hope to find information on contaminates that may be present in the water and how the community can approach the situation. With my research I want to build awareness in the community on the water that is being used and consumed.


-Antonio Wheeler

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Kalamazoo Living History Show

            This past weekend two independent study students and the Project’s intern joined Support the Fort at the Kalamazoo Living History Show. This living history show gives the opportunity for more than 270 vendors of pre-1890's goods and crafts to showcase and sell their products. Among them more than 10,000 members of the general public, historical re-enactors, enthusiasts, and collectors all attended this event. The goods being sold attract a group of people who are interested in pre-1890's history. This, of course, includes Fort St. Josep. With that being said, this weekend was a great opportunity to promote Support the Fort, Inc. and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project (FSJAP).
John Cardinal and Austin George at the Support the Fort Table
            Support the Fort had multiple informational booklets and books about Fort St. Joseph, the French, and the history of the fur trade for sale. The FSJAP brought along fliers about this summer's Open House (August 6-7), pamphlets about our various summer camps, and a showcase filled with exciting finds from the 2015 field season. These artifacts were especially interesting to young kids, many of whom are involved with historical re-enactment. I overheard a mother comparing our artifacts to the products why use when re-enacting.
            It was encouraging to see the number of individuals who were already familiar with the FSJAP, and who were happy to see us and Support the Fort throughout the weekend. For those individuals who were not familiar with Fort St. Joseph, it was a wonderful opportunity to see newly peaked interest. Many individuals express an interest in the Open House, our summer camps, and our multiple social media outlets. We look forward to more opportunities to reach out and engage with the public to teach and discuss Fort St.
Joseph and the work of both Support the Fort and the FSJAP.

-Rebecca

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Industry on the St. Joseph River

Good afternoon, everybody!  

My name is Alexander Milnikel; I’m a graduate student studying Public History at Western Michigan University.  As a member of Dr. Michael Nassaney’s “Anthropology in the Community” section this semester, I am, in collaboration with my research partner Ryan Murdoch, studying the impact that industry on the St. Joseph River has had on the Niles community throughout its history, going all the way back to the establishment and settling of Fort St. Joseph.  Questions we’re delving into include what industries in particular have utilized the St. Joseph River; how have these industries impacted the environment; and how have they helped Niles develop into the community that it is today?
Historical depiction of the French Paper Co. in Niles, Michigan

Since our research began, we’ve looked at a number of industries which have been critical in the history of the Niles area at varying points in time.  A great example of one such industry which most of our Niles readers should be familiar with is the French Paper Company, a paper mill in Niles which has been in operation since 1871.  This paper mill to this day utilizes electricity generated at a hydroelectric power plant at the Niles dam, and continues to produce a wide array of paper products.  What’s more, French Paper Company is just one of a number of paper mills which at different points in Niles’s history have operated along the St. Joseph River, as evidenced by both county histories and old Sanborn Maps of the city of Niles dating back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This shows us a pattern in the types of industry which have historically utilized the St. Joseph River in Niles, namely that there is a longstanding history of paper mills utilizing the river.

When this project is all said and done, Ryan and I hope to have compiled a sufficient rundown of some of the most important industries along the St. Joseph River in Niles’s history, and the role both they and the river have played in the development of the Niles community.  We’re reaching out to at least one community partner and still looking at a number of very promising resources which should greatly aid us in our endeavors.  As a native of southwestern Michigan hailing from St. Joseph who’s visited Niles many times, it’s my great pleasure to in some small way take part in assisting the Niles community in compiling and interpreting its history for the public.


-Alexander C. Milnikel