The Land of the Crooked Tree
Long before Europeans came to Michigan in the 1600s, areas in the state had different names. The Anishnaabek (ah-nish-nah-beck) named villages, rivers, lakes, and other special locations based on traditions (trah-dish-ens). One such area is Waganakising (wah-ga-nuk-sing) or Land of the Crooked Tree.
In Anishnaabek, waganakising means “it is bent.” It is also the Odawa (oh-DAH-wah) word for the shoreline between Cross Village and Harbor Springs, Michigan. The Odawa grew corn, fished, and raised their families there for hundreds of years. Odawa still live at Waganakising.
The name Waganakising comes from a legend (leh-jend) of a large, bent pine tree that used to be on the shore. According to the legend, the tree was bent by a spirit, making it sacred (say-kred). When something is sacred it means that you should treat it with great respect. People traveling on the water would see the tree and know where they were. But that special tree was cut down many years ago.
There are other bent trees across Michigan. Bent trees come in different shapes and sizes. Anishnaabek would bend young trees, or saplings, to help mark trails and give directions. It took skill to know how to bend a tree without killing it. Those trees would grow into large trail markers. The trees would show a traveler which way to go, just like a road sign today. Another special use of the crooked trees was for councils (kown-suls), or meetings. Chiefs from local villages would sit next to their trees and important talks would take place.
The Odawa in Northern Michigan still call their home Waganakising. The sacred bent pine tree may be gone, but the meaning of that tree is still alive with the Odawa.
This story was written by Eric Hemenway, who is an Anishnaabe/Odawa. He is the Director of Repatriation, Archives, and Records for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.
This are photos of two different bent trees. The photo on the left is from Robert Christensen and the photo on the right is from the LTTB Odawa Archives.
The black-and-white photo is along the Saginaw Trail. This trail was important because it connected Detroit and Saginaw. Today, people can drive along sections of this trail. The photo is from the Royal Oak Historical Society.