“The Immigrants” statue is a gift from the people of Drenthe, in the Netherlands.
A group of immigrants journeyed in the spring of 1847 from Rotterdam to New York City’s Ellis Island. The Atlantic passage took 47 days. A group of 60 men, woman, and children traveled together, led by Albertus C. Van Raalte. They looked to settle in a new land, because of religious and economic oppression.
While the Dutch immigrants faced enormous challenges and overcame adversity, they prevailed. They were afforded the opportunity to make a new life.
You may believe the historic story found its beginning and end here.
But, is history ever that simple?
There are no monuments or placards to commemorate another facet of the story. Even the recorded history finds itself pieced together on the shelves of the history room of the public library, the research library of the Holland Museum, and the lower level of joint archives of Van Wylen Library. Amongst shelves of volumes lies a thin folder of newspaper clippings.
The Ottawa Native Americans summered in Northern Michigan in the Mackinaw area. When the season curved around to fall again, they traveled by canoe, via Lake Michigan, back to their land on the shore of Lake Macatawa, then called Black Lake. The Ottawa Native Americans had cleared 15 acres with nearly thirty huts and teepees covered in cedar bark. An early settler said he believed the Native Americans had intended this to be a permanent location.
This stood their rhythm for decades.
The Indians of the Western Great Lakes speaks of early encounters with the Native Americans in this way:
“All strangers that were not enemies, as well as members of their own nations, were at all times welcome to partake of the shelter of a cabin and the food available.”
In the fall of 1848, when the Ottawa Native Americans returned to Black Lake they found the Dutch settlers on their cleared land. The settlers were also using some of their (1,400) maple troughs. The Ottawa Native Americans showed the settlers how to make their own maple troughs, but the settlers continued to use the Ottawa’s troughs. Smallpox was also brought into the area by the settlers. The following spring the Native Americans sold their land to the settlers, exhumed their dead, and traveled by canoe north.
They renamed the area Ana-mah-npo-nig, the place where the Dutch live.
The eloquent Chief Simon Pokagon spoke six languages and authored the book Queen of the Forest, thought of as a classic in Native American literature.
A speech on August 26, 1897, on the occasion of a Semi-Centennial Celebration by Chief Simon Pokagon, resonates in the mind of a witness, late judge Cornelius vander Meulen. He stated that the chief displayed “…a bewilderment, perhaps, as to why in grasping for the goals of the future we crush so much of the beauty of the past.”
In the words of Chief Simon Pokagon, “The same forest that frowned upon you smiled upon us. The same forest that was ague and death to you was our bulwark and defense. The same forest you have cut down and destroyed, we loved, and our great fear was that the white man in his advance westward would mar or destroy it.”
Why do we hide facets of history in thin folders in basement libraries?
If history surfaces, we might then have to admit the rhythm of our interconnectedness, that we, too, were immigrants. This land was not our own to take and give then, nor is it now.
This life, this land, this freedom is a gift we received.
A gift handed back with open hands, would be to listen to the discussion of immigration reform.
Kinietz, Vernon W. (1965) The Indians of the Western Great Lakes 1615-1760.
McClunken, James (2009) Our People, Our Journey, The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
Van Voorst, Cornelia (1972, May 17). Holland’s Early Colonists Befriended by Indians but Indians Left Area around 1948, Holland Sentinel.
VandeWater, Randy (2010, Feb 21). Pokogan one of most famous Native Americans in West Michigan, Holland Sentinel.
Lisa Van Engen is a freelance writer from Holland, Michigan. She writes about placing yourself in the proximity of renewal at http://aboutproximity.com/. All her writing seeks to be encouragement to seek justice and make a difference. You can follow her on twitter at @aboutproximity.
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