Andrew J. Blackbird (ca. 1815-1908) was an Ottawa leader and historian.
Blackbird was born around 1815. At least one account, though, places this date as late as 1821. His father was an Ottawa chief named Macka-de-pe-nessy. The name was mistranslated first by the French and from the French to the English as "Black Bird", which is how the Blackbirds received their English family name. Macka-de-pe-nessy was chief of the Arbor Croche or Middle Village band near present-day Harbor Springs, Michigan. Macka-de-pe-nessy was stranded on a small island by white traders he was helping, and was left to die. Although his father survived, this cruelty left a strong impression on his son.
Blackbird frequently bemoaned the fact that he had missed the opportunity to go to school, training instead to be a blacksmith. Because his father was a chief, Blackbird was solidly educated in traditional Ottawa culture and practices.
Blackbird was a Roman Catholic early in his life, but later converted to Protestantism. Even though he was a Christian, however, he knew the traditional Ottawa religious beliefs well.
Blackbird was formally educated at Eastern Michigan University (then called Michigan Normal University) in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Rise to Recognition
Blackbird was loyalist to the United States during various uprisings. Additionally, Blackbird married a white woman of English background. As a result, he was viewed favorably by the United States.
By the 1850's, Blackbird had become a counselor for both sides between the United States government and the Ottawa and Ojibwa peoples. Blackbird helped veterans of the United States who were Native Americans receive their pensions. He also assisted in settling land claims. During this time, Blackbird strongly advocated that citizenship be granted to the Ottawa and other Native Americans.
When the "Treaty With The Ottawa and Chippewa" was signed on July 31, 1855, Blackbird served as an interpreter, translator and official witness. (See http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/Vol2/treaties/ott0725.htm )
In 1858, Blackbird bought a house in Harbor Springs, Michigan and settled there permanently. At the time, Harbor Springs was still primarily populated by Ottawas. Blackbird became the town's postmaster.
History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan
In 1887, Blackbird published his History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. The work was published in Ypsilanti, Michigan by the Ypsilantian Job Printing House. The book was among the first authoritative accounts of the Ottawa and Ojibwa (Chippewa) peoples ever published.
The book covers not only historical facts, but day-to-day details of how the Ottawa and Ojibwa hunted, fished and trapped before the coming of the whites. Also of importance is the way in which Blackbird explains many of the traditional beliefs and cultural practices of the two tribes. Much of the book's significance rest is the fact that it was written by Blackbird who was himself a Native American freed it from much of the bias common in books by white authors of the period.
Finally, the book includes a basic grammar to the Ottawa and Ojibwa languages.
Andrew J. Blackbird Museum
The Andrew J. Blackbird Museum in Harbor Springs, Michigan is a museum of Ottawa artifacts presented in the house in which Blackbird lived from 1858 until his death in 1908. There is a Michigan State Historical Marker at the site and the house itself is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Blackbird, Andrew J. History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan (reprint), Partners Publishers Group, 2001.
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