Activists urge Detroit to increase inclusion of indigenous communities

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The Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance gathered outside the Spirit of Detroit on Indigenous People's Day. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • The Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance gathered outside the Spirit of Detroit on Indigenous People's Day.

Indigenous activists are calling on Detroit leaders to address historical inequities and honor the original people who were displaced from the city.

The Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance (DIPA) made the demands while gathered in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Woodward on Indigenous People’s Day on Monday.



“This place here is the traditional homeland of the Anishinaabe,” Don Lyons, an indigenous person who grew up in Detroit, said. “This is where our creation story started. I want my kids to know this is their creation story, this is where they belong, this is where their story starts.”

The alliance laid out five steps for the city to honor indigenous communities:



• Institutionalize Indigenous People’s Day within city government.

• Commission a monument to honor Indigenous people.

• Develop an official land acknowledgment to be placed on the city’s website and used at all public meetings.

• Designate a liaison to work closely with tribal governments and organizations and invest resources to protect the burial mounds at Fort Wayne.

• Recognize the history of Detroit that the Anishinaabe called Waawiyaatanong, “Where the water goes around.”

Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López said she supports the proposals.

“I wholeheartedly support DIPA’s proposal to put the intent of these resolutions into action,” Castañeda-López said. “DIPA has played an important role in raising awareness and moving the conversation forward about Indigenous communities and their rights, yet the city must do more to honor and acknowledge these communities.”

Antonio Cosme, an indigenous educator, writer, and artist, said the proposals are an important step in honoring the original people of Waawiyaatanong.

“These sorts of measures would demonstrate an earnest desire on behalf of the city of Detroit to embrace the history of this land, and a longer conception of time and place,” Cosme said. “Acknowledging is just a starting point.”

David Pitawanakwat, founder of the Detroit Indigenous People’s Alliance and  student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, encouraged local allies to stay engaged.

“No matter what is happening at the top, local politics is what matters,” Pitawanakwat said. “No mater how small the gatherings are, we have to keep having them. … Let’s show Detroit’s real history.”

In June 2020, DIPA activists hung a sign on the bust of a Christopher Columbus statue in Detroit that read, “Looter, Rapist, Slave Trader.” A day later, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration removed the 110-year-old statue, which had been standing at Jefferson and Randolph since the late 980s.

On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared Oct. 11 to be Indigenous People's Day. On Friday, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. President to do so.

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