Buried under layers of glacial ice until about 10,000 years ago, the land that is now Michigan was inhospitable to many of the native cultures that thrived in much of the Midwest, like the Paleo and Archaic Indians. Some of the first signs of civilization can be found in the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula , where the Copper Culture Indians of about 5000–500 B.C. left evidence of their skill as prehistoric miners, devising ways to extract copper from bedrock and fashioning it into tools. Archaeologists believe they may be the world’s earliest toolmakers.
Later, the Algonquin Indians migrated to the Great Lakes region from the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, probably after A.D. 1000. The Algonquins were divided into three tribes: the Ottawa (or Odawa), the Ojibwa (or Chippewa), and the Potawatomi. Together, they called themselves the Anishinabe (first people) and named their new land Michi Gami (large lake). In and around that lake, they found the state’s abundant wildlife—including fish, white-tailed deer, moose, elk, and black bear—and rich natural resources that nourished the tribes for centuries.
The three tribes coexisted peacefully, each moving to a different area. The Ottawa settled around Sault Ste. Marie , the Straits of Mackinac, and the Leelanau Peninsula; the Ojibwa moved west, along the shores of Lake Superior; and the Potawatomi headed south, to the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. They communicated regularly, and their peaceable relationship proved valuable when others came to their lands. Together, they successfully fought off the warring Iroquois who came from the east in the 1600s, and presented themselves as a strong, unified people when the Europeans arrived.