Traverse City: The Dangerous Intersection of Bourgeoisie White Liberalism and Colonial “Land Conservation”

Traverse City, Michigan is a dangerous place.  White liberalism is dangerous.  White liberalism is colonization and therefore Traverse City, Michigan is full of the bourgeoisie colonial White liberals.  If the folks in Traverse City want to poke fun at Manistee, Michigan then at least the folks in the sticks down by the river are outright racist rather than pretending they are “do gooder White liberals.”  If there is a hierarchy in racism – pretending you are not racist is far worse.

The disease of colonization has White liberals believing that their hands aren’t dirty.  Go to Africa and bring colonial help instead of empowering Native folks right in your own backyard.  Open a co-op in a so called working class neighborhood in lily White Traverse City and please don’t feel good about yourself.  Do bike lanes make you feel even better?  Too bad your liberal city is the most sprawled out in Northern Michigan.  Conservatives pretty much run Grand Traverse County so liberals really don’t have power. 


Bourgeoisie White Liberalism

Liberalism wants to not identify with conservatism.  If you are talking about the majority culture colonial politics in the United States then these are two sides to the same coin.  Good luck challenging the system by believing in the system.  Therefore, bourgeoisie White liberalism is colonialism and believes in the current system.  

Shut down Line 5?  What about help others choose recovery in your own backyard as environmental justice?  Or bringing a migrant farm worker family some clothes or decent housing that isn’t filled with mold?  If you drive a car then there is no reason to fight big oil?  Have plastic in your home?  Then get rid of everything that is associated with oil.  A partial list of products made from oil.  I am pro-industry but I believe the patriarchal industry needs to change.  I am pro-industry for the working class people.  I am pro-industry for the workers and the bread on the table.  I am from a working class family with UAW and CWA roots.  We need to change our ways but change and transformation takes time.  This downplaying of the poor and working class (who are mostly Native and People of Color) degrades the wealth and time of labour.  I am akin to the worker because it is in my blood and soul.  The sweat and tears for family and community instills a pride in labour.  Bourgeoisie White liberalism wants to end this labour without many solutions and doesn’t take into consideration colonial resource extraction in Indigenous communities to make their so called “environmental friendly,” Prius.

“Eco-consciousness” and “green living” are centrepieces of product branding for the Toyota Prius. But that feel-good packaging has rapidly worn thin for members of the Algonquin Nation and residents of Kipawa, Quebec, who are now fighting to protect traditional Algonquin territory from devastation in the name of hybrid car battery production.
In 2011, after nearly two years of negotiations, Matamec Explorations, a Quebec-based junior mining exploration company, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada (TRECan), a Canadian subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Tsusho Corporation. The memorandum confirmed Matamec’s intention to become “one of the first heavy rare earths producers outside of China.” In pursuit of this role, the company plans to build an open-pit Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) mine directly next to Kipawa Lake, the geographical, ecological, and cultural centre of Kipawa.” - Toyota Prius Not So Green After All

Water is life but that sounds like pro-life.  How about water is love?  Water is healing?  Water is scary!  Have you ever seen 15 foot waves on Gitchee Gumee (Lake Superior) in November?  That is life but it is also death.  See story on the Edmund Fitzgerald

Colonial Land Conservation

There are White environmental groups who plague the city.  This money is funneled from White conservation foundations who grant to White environmental organizations to save the bay or save the bike lane.  There is an outright discrimination in philanthropy towards Native led groups as well.

“Over the past decade, U.S. foundation support benefiting Native Americans declined from 0.5 percent to 0.3 percent of total foundation giving. According to Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, total grant dollars targeting Native Americans dropped 30.8 percent in the latest year, compared to a 14.1 percent overall downturn in foundation giving. This report was prepared by the Foundation Center with Native Americans in Philanthropy.” – Report: Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, by Native Americans in Philanthropy & the Foundation Center (2011)

You don’t see White environmental groups prioritizing Indigenous communities or talking about that colonization is still taking place through their work.  They just tokenize Indigenous people and usually Indigenous men to maintain the stereotype of the strong Indian man warrior.  Because warriors aren’t women or Two-Spirits, right? 

Summer Tourism

The worst place to go in the summer is Traverse City swimming with a sea of tourists from Midwestern cities fleeing their colonial suburban homes. They want their taste of northern Michigan with easy access to overpriced shops and food snobbery.  What you get is people who want easy access to consumption tourism.  They don’t want to be where there is nobody or no sound – that’s too frightening.   

Take Off the Mask

You might as well take off the mask Traverse City.  Your true colors don’t have much color.  You look a little peeked, pale, and famished.  You have a problem and that is your provincial bubble of so called “liberalism.” But you are surrounding by red as a beet conservatism in Grand Traverse County. 

The attitude from Traverse City to Manistee or any place else is arrogance.  Just because the White road of success was laid out so you can have a cozy White life doesn’t mean you bash the folks who were born in dire poverty down by the river in Manistee.  Your bourgeoisie Whiteness makes you a racist asshole.  Many of those folks born down by the river happen to be Odawa Native American.   

Racial Justice

White liberals in Traverse City don’t care about addressing racism.  Having a “Human Rights Commission,” doesn’t mean much when there is discrimination in housing, work, and other areas in your city.  Nothing to pat yourself on the back about.  You have a lot of work to do.  Tokenizing minorities in the workplace is racism. 

Bad Medicine in Traverse City

I am pointing the finger at you and your nasty city.  Most every person I have ever met from Traverse City with the exception of a very few has bad medicine.  Every meeting I have gone there from work has turned to shit because the people are shit.  I’ve heard “Manistee-tucky,” and “we are better than Manistee,” from mostly White hillbillies who think they are somehow above the realness of Manistee.  I was there one time for work on my car and a White guy said, “you don’t look Native American, you look Pakistani.”  Do you get out much from your White town?  Then he went on to say, “the Native people around here are fat.  They are lazy.  They don’t live the culture.”   The town is so full of racism that my list could go on and on. 

From my point of view, the excessive amount of money (i.e. – Old Mission Colonial Peninsula) taints the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.  Members of this tribe are influenced by the gentry and bourgeoisie White liberalism that taints the land.  The culture is not strong nor is it intact.  The patriarchal Christian White influence has infiltrated the tribe.  Money is driving the band and if you have money before culture you lose the people.  My tribe is very poor but the culture is intact.  There are many many many sober community members who do the work and help other community members heal across Anishinaabe Aki.  This bad medicine in Traverse City has tainted any sort of centering Anishinaabe people in the region.  I will not do work in Traverse City and avoid that place like the plague.  If we have a meeting you can meet me in real salt of the Earth places such as Manistee or the anywhere in the UP! 

Defending Manistee

Not revealing too much about who we are one thing I can know is Manistee is real.  Manistee is far more diverse being inside the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians reservation.  My friend visited from Detroit and was happy to see Black and mixed families in Manistee.  We are real and not fake.  Manistee is not without problems.  Conservatives in Manistee here have encouraged my work on racial justice.  They are acquaintances at the park and friends.  When I first moved to Manistee I was impressed with Odawa kids playing with mixed race and Polish kids.  There is racism here too and White liberals who deny there is a problem.  Some have gone to Africa to paternalistically “help.”  Some who say they are Christians when they find the biggest sand dune and bury their head in it when racism is in their own backyard.  Manistee is working class and real.  Thank you Manistee for creating allies with conservatives and doing community work with people that is truly inclusive.

Shoreline Entitlement: White Privilege and White Space in Northern Michigan

Before colonization the shoreline of the Great Lakes was 100% Anishinaabe, Algonquin, and Haudenosaunee operated and maintained.  Using the word “ownership,” has colonization and dominion attached to it so it is best to use English words that have a less colonizing tone.  Could you imagine how beautiful the shoreline was with no gigantic towering mansions or yacht clubs?  Could you imagine no hateful anti-Indian sentiment because we can do what we have been doing for thousands of years which is hunt, fish, and gather as our innate right as the original people of this land?  The beauty of Anishinaabe Aki before colonization was beyond words, cliché saying, but beyond English words more specifically, eh?  What would it be like if we could stand along the shore without getting the White gaze and racial macro-aggression from the penny millionaire tourists who think we shouldn’t be there?  The water was pure and there was no pipelines running underneath certain areas like the Straits of Mackinac near Mackinac Island, which was a ceremonial place for our Anishinaabe people for thousands of years. 

Then came the terra nullius (Latin for “nobody’s land”) believers and Christian inquisitionist to save us when we didn’t need saving at all.  Then came Father Marquette and Bishop Baraga.  Indians needed Christianity because we were sinners and not living according to the great patriarchal colonial and abusive father, who had long before broken down the tribes of Europe.  Then came land being divided up and sold.   “Manifest Destiny,” meant colonization, genocide, assimilation, and the creation of the biggest form of environmental racism, the reservation system.  Land allotments and land for sale for the hungry immigrant who ran from persecution only to persecute us.  Then came poverty created by White patriarchal settler colonialism.  Then our women were regulated to wear skirts and cook for men and no longer made the men cook for us.  As our traditional economies, harvesting, and gathering of foods prior to colonization had gender balance.  Then came abuse, silencing, denying depression, which led to greater oppression, because we were not allowed to speak about the abhorrent land, culture, and soul loss.  We had to “integrate” into patriarchal White settler colonialism only to be marginalized, oppressed further, discriminated against, denied access to our waterways, harvesting traditional foods, and denied existence in a consistent racially discriminating majority culture. 

What is Shoreline Entitlement?

“For those in power in the West… Whiteness is felt to be the human condition… it alone defines normality and fully inhabits it… White people have power and believe that they think, feel and act like and for all people; White people, unable to see their particularity, cannot take account of other people’s; White people create dominant images of the world and don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image; White people set the standards of humanity by which they are bound to succeed and others bound to fail. Most of this is not done deliberately and maliciously; there are enormous variations in power amongst White people to do with class, gender, and other factors; goodwill is not unheard of in White people’s engagement with others.  White power none the less reproduces itself regardless of intention, power differences and goodwill, and overwhelmingly because it is not seen as Whiteness, but as normal.” – Richard Dyer, White: Essays on Race and Culture

  1. White possession is a regime of power while infiltrates all larger systems.
  2. Whiteness is invisible to White people.
  3. White possession is hyper visible to Indigenous people.
  4. The beach and shoreline as a White masculine space.
  5. The Indigenous body and land as a White possession.
  6. The problematic racial Black/White binary as Indigenous erasure.
  7. Equal opportunity is defined under patriarchal White sovereignty.
  8. Treaty rights are limiting, partial, controlled, and monitored rights. 
  9. The denial of Métis identity in colonial and occupied United States.
  10. Denial of woman’s and Two-Spirit's space on the shoreline and waterways. 
USDA report ( Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007 )

USDA report (Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007)

The Disease of Colonization

“Race matters in the lives of all peoples; for some people it confers unearned privileges, and for others it is the mark of inferiority.  Daily newspapers, radio, television, and social media usually portray Indigenous peoples as a deficit model of humanity.  We are overrepresented as always lacking, dysfunctional, alcoholic, violent, needy, and lazy whether we are living in Illinois, Auckland, Honolulu, Toronto, or Brisbane.  For Indigenous people, White possession is not unmarked, unnamed, or invisible; it is hypervisible.” – The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty, by Aileen Moreton-Robinson

White possession is very visible to Native people as in land, when we want to hunt, when we want to put our boat on the water and fish, when we want to enjoy a walk along the shoreline of one of the Great Lakes, or knowing that the dialogue on “natural resources” focuses on patriarchal “environmentalism” as a special White middle class interest.  Often non-Native people will say things, “why is so and so defensive?”  The majority of Native people can personally attest to discrimination and racism which leads us to be on the defense at all times or we have severe trauma not just from the majority culture but within our own non-communities because of blood quantum, tribal politics, and internalized oppression.  We are survivors of genocide who are told to “get over it,” while being simultaneously discriminated against, stereotyped via mascots, and our issues blatantly censored in the lamestream media.  Additionally, we have to exist within White possessions, space, and entitlement while explaining our identity when we don’t fit into the stereotypical perspective of what it means to be Indian.  Finally, the visibility of White possession outright ignores sovereignty, land, and Native lives through colonial legislation, injustice systems, police, military, family systems, and “property rights.” 

Where White possession is most visible is along the shoreline of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan.  Think about the land before colonization.  I always am but my viewpoint is rare because it is not steeped in patriarchy but the strong foundation of my ancestors from a Two-Spirit matriarchal view.  In the summer I spend a lot of time on the shoreline.  Often engaging in prayer or running/walking.  This is one way to decolonize daily.  Decolonization is every single step.  When the White gaze comes my way from tourists who think Indians don't exist anymore I just stare right back at them.  I advocate for my serenity and peace.  With serenity I can counter racism and bigotry with love (zaagidewin).  Therefore, I stand on the shore while holding it down with decolonized love for the land, water, our relations, ancestors, family, community, and healing.  What is powerful is holding the space when as Native people we have very little space.

The Dawes Act of 1887 – Land for Sale, Private Property

The truth is that White space is backed by federal laws in the colonial United States.  Redlining occurred in the major metropolitan areas in the United States so there was concentrated poverty within communities of color and White space in the suburbs.  For Native American people White space took everything and blocked our beautiful way of life in terms of traditional economies.  Every molecule of our existence and livelihood was swallowed up and backed by federal laws.  The Dawes Act of 1887 has four important stipulations which occur in an order that describes colonization and land loss.  These stipulations include the following: imposed individual land ownership, heirship, surplus land was opened up to White settlement, and checker boarding. 

A poem I wrote in 1998.   I was 16 years old. 

A poem I wrote in 1998.   I was 16 years old. 

What Settlers Can Do

Settlers don’t think much about Native people.  The general theme is everything is fine, I’ve got mine, and I’ll feel good if I send $20 to the local soup kitchen.  Settler colonialism has purposefully erased us and established a colonial nation with States.  Within States there are Counties.  Within Counties there are Cities, Towns, Townships, Villages, and Unincorporated Villages.  The un-incorporation sounds like it business, eh?  It is a colonial business and it has gone on way too long.  Settlers play a part in this business as maintained by the federal government to local government.  It is all the same. 

Settlers seem to be in denial of the problem like an addiction.  This occupied land by the colonial business of the United States is an addiction.  Many countries around the world don’t like the United States.  You can see why.  Although these countries are not perfect in how they have treated Indigenous people yet Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have at least started working reconciliation issues.  Meanwhile in the colonial United States there has been no movement.  Resource colonization, environmental racism, and job discrimination is continued colonization.  If you think colonization is over you are colonization denial and need to check into a decolonization anonymous group!

Settlers don’t know where to start.  Usually they want to work more and disconnect from their children by working 80 hours a week.  They want to numb out in front of TV or eat toxic foods.  They believe the “history” books in high school and pledge allegiance to genocide.  This land is not your land as this land is Native land.  Actually admitting you have a problem doesn’t mean you are enlightened.  By acknowledging you see and want to listen to Native people you are on the first step to being a settler ally.  Most settlers in the United States have a problem.  

Efforts to Honor Us and Our Shoreline

I believe we are being honored more than my Grandfather’s time.  There are water ceremonies and awareness drawn to communities like Aamjiwnaang First Nation in occupied Sarnia, Ontario, to water walks in many of our tribal communities throughout the entire Great Lakes.  However we have a lot of work to do to fully bring healing and justice within our Anishinaabe communities.  The stereotype is that Indian’s have casinos so they are fine now.  This is not true at all.   Land loss is culture loss.  We need space for grieving and healing.  We need space to be honored and acknowledged.  We need more space to the shoreline without fear of dealing with racism whether enjoying the Great Lakes or fishing.  Honor us and work hard to do so because our existence is resistance in the persistence of this toxicity of settler colonization.  Some of us are working hard to survive in this great oppression and rise above.  Work harder for us and be aware of more than your privilege.  Like any addiction after you acknowledge you have a problem you work hard to heal the root cause.   


Works Cited

  1. Freire, Paulo (1970).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  The Continuum Publishing Company.
  2. Moreton-Robinson, A. (2015). The White possessive: Property, power, and indigenous sovereignty. University of Minnesota Press

Article: Michigan Sells Treaty-Protected, Pristine Public Land for Limestone Mine

A group of American Indians in Michigan have lost their bid to block a land transfer of nearly 9,000 acres to a company proposing a limestone mine—the “largest single public land deal in Michigan history,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

The attempted injunction was the last legal line of defense against the mine, which would cover as many as 13,000 acres, according to the Detroit Free Press. In the deal, which was approved in March, the state will sell 8,810 acres of “surface land or underground mineral rights” to Graymont, a Canadian mining company, for $4.53 million so it can build the limestone mine in the Upper Peninsula, the Detroit Free Press said.

The group—comprised of members of several tribes—had filed suit in Grand Rapids trying to stop the Michigan Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh from transferring land to Graymont Mining Co., based on treaty rights. The mine would be built on about 10,360 acres in the northern peninsula, the  Associated Press reported.

"The land subject to transfer is wholly within the 1836 Treaty of Washington Ceded Territory and subject to the conditions laid out in the 2007 Inland Consent Decree,” said lead plaintiff Phil Bellfy in a statement. “It would be unconstitutional for the MDNR Director to transfer those lands as we—American Indians—have Treaty rights to "the usual privileges of occupancy" on those 11,000 acres. We are asking the Court to step in and preserve our Treaty rights and enjoin Mr. Craegh from transferring that land."

Bellfy said that the land transfer is unconstitutional under treaty provisions. The Michigan Department of Resources announced on Tuesday March 10 that it would recommend Creagh approve the deal at the agency’s March 19 meeting.

Besides Bellfy, members of several area tribes are plaintiffs in the lawsuit—the Bay Mills Indian Community, 
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, 
Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, 
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. They are also backed by the Sierra Club and numerous residents who oppose the project, but the prospect of jobs in the economically beleaguered town won out.

Though the tribes were unsuccessful in their bid to get an injunction against the company, the judge did refer the matter to the Court’s Magistrate to see whether or not it should be assigned to the judge who is overseeing the consent decree, Bellfy said in the group’s statement.


Poem: I am the Un-Feeling Man

I am the manufactured heart unfeeling man,
Let me be the un-feeling man,

In brown boots,
With hairy legs,
With a mustache,

My heart is closed accordingly,
Your judging it,
Saying I need to open it,
Feel it,
Open up to this idea of "romantic love,"
What about platonic love?
Aromantic love?

"Sweetness" sidetracked,
I've got everything together,
Everything is in perfect order,
Do not move that plate or napkin out of place,
As a woman should,
Have everything in order,
If not then discard me,
Discard my heart,
Discard my belongings,

I am the un-feeling man,
Running fingers over my mustache,
Let me not feel,
My emotions,
Or heart.

Poem: Ajijaak Dodem Anokii

It is so precious,
These tears on my hands,
Covering my face,
This grieving is beautiful,
You see we had felt those knives turned inward,
On ourselves,
On our family,
When we could not speak,
When we could not feel,

These tears are precious,
Incredibly triumphant,
Reciprocity of sadness,
Feeling emotions,
Generational emotions felt,
Mean that we can heal historical trauma,
Herstorical trauma,
No more,
Silent No More,

Tears on pillows,
To heal,
Rebooting the old ancient ways,

If these spirits towered over us,
What could we feel was that fist in the cement,
And drifting,

Static through our heads,
The cold metal desk,
Work places,
Public spaces,
Sweaty palms,
Nervousness streaked across tables,

If the Grandfather listened,
And honored us,
And did not judge us,
Even though we judged ourselves,
For loving you,
For trying to help you,

If the Grandmother said,
I support you,
And took your hand,
As a gift unimaginable,

This is in fact dodem anokii,
You see,
Not social work,
Dodem anokii,

Ajijaak dodem,

Do you know what all of this means?

- - - - - - - - - -


Ajijaak - Crane
Anokii - Work
Dodem - Clan