Friday, December 14, 2018

Copies of largely unknown annuity rolls donated to the Clarke Historical Library

By John Fierst

For years annuity rolls filed in the records of the General Accounting Office (Record Group 217 in the National Archives) were largely unknown to researchers. Entry 525, “Settled Indian Accounts and Claims, 1794-1894,” in this record group contains many rolls relevant to numerous tribes in Michigan and Wisconsin. This was brought to our attention by researcher and compiler, G. Russell Overton, who recently provided the Clarke Historical Library with PDF copies of these important files.

Each item in the collection pertains to a particular annuity paid, under a specific treaty, to a single band or group of regional bands. Each item lists names of recipients who received payments. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, the Grand River and Little River Ottawas, the Grand and Little Traverse bands, the Sault Ste. Marie Band, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and many others—all are included in the collection.

Overton has carefully identified each document. The first page of each document is a title page containing a complete citation in conformity with the Chicago Manual of Style. Overton’s intention is “to provide scholars the information they need to cite these documents correctly and fully.”



“Sometimes annuity payments were late,” writes Overton. “Indian agencies in the mid nineteenth century were always overworked and understaffed, and an agent spent much of his time traveling throughout his territory making annuity payments. Because of challenging geography, difficult traveling conditions, and short summer months, the Michigan agents usually paid the Upper Peninsula tribes during the summer months and paid the Lower Peninsula tribes in the fall and early winter. The most southerly tribes often had to wait until January to receive their annuities. In an attempt to clarify how these late payments were made, I have entitled them by the fiscal year they represent.” Pulling these little appreciated documents off the shelves of the National Archives, making us aware of their importance, and then making them easily accessible, Overton has advanced our knowledge of tribal history in a small but significant way. A user’s copy of the Record Group 217 annuities can be consulted in the Clarke Historical Library reading room.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Grace Lin

By Frank Boles

On November 27, children’s author Grace Lin spoke to a large audience in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium in the Park Library. Grace Lin is a nationally recognized author and illustrator, but her topic for the evening was not exactly what you would expect an author with her reputation to discuss. She discussed how she grew up wanting to be white, like her classmates, and eventually embraced her Asian heritage.

Grace Lin was born in upstate New York, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She and her two sisters were the only Asian children in their K-12 school classes. Grace desperately wanted to fit in, but slowly realized she was “different.” What finally made her realize this was her experience after the class decided to put on the play, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Grace, like a number of other girls, very much wanted to play Dorothy. They would gather daily on the playground to practice singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a successful rendition of which was seen as a sure ticket to being cast in the role. On the day of the play audition, Grace asked a friend if she thought Grace had a chance at the role. The friend responded, directly and with devastating simplicity, “of course not – Dorothy isn’t Chinese.”

Grace decided she wouldn’t be Chinese either. She refused to learn the language. She refused to participate in “Chinese” customs at home. At college at the Rhode Island School of Design she studied western art, and eventually studied art in Italy. Sitting in a cafĂ© one day in Rome, an Italian acquaintance asked, “so you’re Chinese, right.” Grace quickly set the man straight – she was American. When her companion looked puzzled, she went on to explain that her parents were Chinese. This led to another puzzled look, and to a question Grace had no answer to, “so okay, they're Chinese but why did they immigrate to the U.S., and how did that change you?”

That question led Grace to discover a new sense of self. She could draw beautiful depictions of European art, but as she noted ruefully on the auditorium stage, “let’s be honest – look at my package.” She began to study Asian art and also began to think about a career as an illustrator.

Like most struggling young children’s illustrators the road to her first book was torturous, but eventually she published The Ugly Vegetables, based on her own experiences with her mother. Unlike her upstate New York neighbors, who grew flowers around their homes, Grace Lin’s mother grew nothing but vegetables, Chinese vegetables.

The book was a reasonable success, and her publisher asked if she had an idea for a second publication. She most certainly did – a book about how her sisters learned about science, with sidebars that clearly explained the piece of science the girls were struggling to master. The publishers had several suggestions, the most important being that books about science that featured girls didn’t sell well – she should make the lead character a boy; a Caucasian boy. Lin didn’t mind too much the advice about what sold and what didn’t, which is certainly something a publisher would know – but why a white boy?

The publisher was as brutally honest as Grace’s grade school friend. “Your first book was ‘multi-cultural.’ That’s fine, but if your second book is also classified as multi-cultural you will be pigeonholed as ‘merely’ a multi-cultural author.”

As it turned out, another, much larger publisher approached Lin about a book before she really began working on the science publication. Dim Sum for Everyone sold well, and true to her first publisher’s advice, “classified” Lin as a multi-cultural author.

Lin admittedly candidly that this classification caused a crisis in her own work. Was she a children’s author and illustrator, or an illustrator and author who worked with Chinese themes? Was she valued for her work, or for her ethnicity? For a period of time, she refused to do another “Chinese” book, instead publishing volumes using animal characters. What she found, however, is that when she went on book tours, what parents and children showed up with to have signed was not her animal books, but her multi-cultural publications.

Perhaps the turning point was a signing at which she was approached by an Asian-American couple who asked for her autograph and tearfully thanked her for writing books in which their children could see themselves and their lives. The children in Lin’s books looked like them. That moment brought back to Lin her K-12 experience; that Dorothy couldn’t be Chinese, and by implication Lin wasn’t like the other girls and had nothing to offer them.

Lin realized her unique contribution to children’s literature was not drawing animals, but embracing her ethnicity, and through that embrace, allowing children growing up as she did to understand that they too were not only part of the American experience, but had their own enviable characters who looked just like them that other children would want to be.

In her award winning, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Lin tells the story of ten-year old Minli, who saves her village with the help of a dragon she befriends. What ten-year old wouldn’t want to save their village with the help of a Chinese dragon? And any well-read ten-year old knows that while Dorothy has a lot going for her, what with being acquainted with a wizard, and a scarecrow, and a tin man, and a lion, there aren’t any dragons to befriend in either Kansas or Oz. For that story to be told, the school play needs to be set in China, and the lead character becomes Minli.

It was an evening of true learning for many of those in the audience, who saw the world through a very different lens.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

George Weeks: A Tribute

By Frank Boles




George Weeks, member of the Clarke Historical Library Board of Governors from 1993 to 2002, died Friday, November 30, in Traverse City. A walking authority on Michigan government and politics, Weeks began his career as a political reporter in 1954, covering state government for United Press International. He would eventually become UPI’s Lansing Bureau Chief. When William Milliken became governor Weeks first became Milliken’s press secretary, and later his chief of staff. At the end of the Milliken administration, Weeks resumed his career as a journalist, becoming a columnist for the Detroit News until he retired in 2006.
Both as a journalist and while working in the Milliken administration, Weeks had a reputation of being thorough, fair, and honest. He also loved Michigan history. Weeks is remembered for his book, Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan, which one source considered, “one of the all-time great resources in Michigan government and politics.”
Weeks, however, was responsible for a bit more gubernatorial history than that book. In the 1920s, the Michigan Historical Commission had published a four-volume set documenting the official messages of Michigan’s governors. The fiscal crisis that gripped Michigan and the nation led the Historical Commission to end the series, something George thoroughly regretted.
In the early 1990s, CMU’s President Leonard Plachta struck upon the idea of CMU renewing this series, and suggested that the Clarke Historical Library serve as the home for the project. George championed the idea. The result are volumes five through ten of the Messages of the Governors of Michigan. The first of these five volumes was published in 2003 and began with Governor-elect Fred Green’s 1926 victory speech. The final entry of volume ten, dated August 23, 2002, documented Governor John Engler’s remarks to the Republication Party’s State Convention.
George Weeks was a good man, a good historian, and, when he was in town for the Clarke Board meetings, he almost always had a few good stories to tell about the goings on in Lansing. I will miss him.
For a more complete obituary, please read the story about his death published in the Detroit News and posted at https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/12/03/george-weeks-political-columnist-michigan-obituary/2191530002/ .