Andrew Jackson Blackbird/Makade-Binisii (c. 1815/21 – 17 September 1908)

Andrew Blackbird was a key figure in the history of the Odawa (Ottawa) tribe. As a leader and historian, he made significant contributions, including his 1887 book, “History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan.” He also held the distinction of being the last chief of the Ottawa and the first postmaster of Harbor Springs.

Early Life

Andrew Blackbird was the youngest of ten children, born in the L’Arbre Croche area of Michigan, which is now known as Harbor Springs. The exact year of his birth is debated, with estimates ranging from 1814 to 1821.

Traditionally, Andrew would have received an Ottawa name like his siblings, but this changed with the arrival of U.S. Indian agents. They converted traditional family names into Euro-American names, and heads of families took on these new names.

Andrew’s father, also named Makade-binesi or “Black Hawk,” was an Ottawa leader. The French mistranslated his name to “Blackbird,” which became the family’s English name. Makade-binesi led the Arbor Croche band and had a harrowing experience when white traders left him stranded on a small island to die. Although he survived, this act of cruelty deeply affected Andrew. The suspicious death of Andrew’s brother, William, in Rome in 1833 while studying for the priesthood, also left a lasting impact on him.

Baptized a Roman Catholic in 1825, Andrew later converted to Protestantism and served as an interpreter at the Protestant mission in L’Arbre Croche. Despite his Christian faith, he remained knowledgeable about traditional Ottawa religious beliefs.

Son of a Chief

Andrew often lamented his limited formal education. However, being the son of a chief, he received a solid grounding in traditional Ottawa culture and practices.

At around 14, after his mother’s death, Andrew moved to Wisconsin, living with white farmers and fishermen. He later became the assistant government blacksmith at Grand Traverse, a mixed Chippewa and Ottawa area, despite local opposition.

In 1845, Andrew moved to Twinsburg, Ohio, to study at the Twinsburg Institute for four years, but he did not graduate. He returned home in 1850 to care for his ailing father and devoted himself to helping his people gain citizenship. He participated in the 1855 Detroit council, where the Ottawa tribe was dissolved in exchange for individual land allotments.

Andrew attended Eastern Michigan University (then Michigan State Normal School) for two years but again left without graduating. In a letter to his mentor in 1858, he expressed frustration over his struggles with the English language and his desire to create educational resources in his native tongue.

Chief Andrew J. Blackbird - Image By Unknown -, Fair use, to Recognition

Andrew eventually returned to L’Arbre Croche, now Little Traverse, and married an English woman, Elizabeth Margaret Fish. This marriage improved his standing with the U.S. government.

By the 1850s, Andrew had become a counselor between the U.S. government and the Ottawa and Ojibwa peoples. He assisted Native American veterans in obtaining their pensions and worked with advocate Louise Obermiller to defend land ownership and annuity claims based on treaties from 1836 and 1855.

When the “Treaty With The Ottawa and Chippewa” was signed on July 31, 1855, Andrew served as an interpreter, translator, and official witness. Though the treaty dissolved the tribal organization, making him a “Chief” with little influence, he continued his advocacy.

Chief Andrew J. Blackbird House

In 1858, Andrew bought a house in Harbor Springs, Michigan, where he served as the town’s postmaster. Appointed by his friend, Senator Thomas Ferry, Andrew’s home also functioned as the post office. As the town grew and more white settlers arrived, they petitioned for his removal. In response, Andrew built an addition to his house for the post office. Nevertheless, he was removed as postmaster in 1877 due to racial prejudice.

Andrew lived in his Harbor Springs home until his death in 1908. His wife Elizabeth and their sons continued living there until the last son passed away in 1947. The house was sold to the Michigan Indian Foundation in 1948 and opened as a museum. The city of Harbor Springs purchased it in 1964, and today it serves as the Andrew J. Blackbird Museum housing American Indian artifacts and some of the original mailboxes.

History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan

In 1887, Andrew published his book, “History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan,” in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This book was one of the first authoritative accounts of the Ottawa and Ojibwa peoples, providing not just historical facts but also detailed descriptions of their daily life, including hunting, fishing, and trapping practices before the arrival of white settlers. Because Andrew was Native American, his work lacked the biases common in books by white authors of that era.

Michigan Walk of Fame

The Michigan Walk of Fame honors state residents, past and present who have made significant contributions to the state, nation, or the world.

Blackbird was inducted in 2007 in the Education and Literature category. His 18’X30’ bronze plaque is embedded in the sidewalk of the 300 North Washington Square block in downtown Lansing. The plaque features a star and reads:

Educated first in Odawa (Ottawa) skills and traditions, Andrew J. Blackbird struggled to find the resources to attend Euro-American schools. He eventually studied at Ypsilanti State Normal School. His command of English enabled him to work as an interpreter for the Mackinac Indian Agency. He helped gain Michigan citizenship for Native Americans under the 1850 Constitution and became the first postmaster of Harbor Springs in the 1860s. Blackbird also helped widows and children of Civil War soldiers obtain benefits. His History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan, published in 1887, includes a grammar of the Odawa language and his autobiography, one of the first written by a Native American.

Andrew J. Blackbird House/Makade Binisii Wegamik Historical Marker

Statehood Era (1815-1860) – Registered in 1971 and erected in 2000 – ID #S352

Located at 368 East Main Street, Harbor Springs, West Traverse Township – Lat: 45.43056300 / Long: -84.98481300

Andrew J Blackbird House/Andrew Blackbird Museum -  Image By Royalbroil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, J. Blackbird House

Andrew J. Blackbird (c. 1815-1908), an important figure in the history of the Odawa (Ottawa) tribe, was the son of a chief. Educated in the traditions of the Odawa, he also attended Euro-American schools, including present-day Eastern Michigan University. Blackbird bought this building around 1858, when the town was inhabited mostly by Odawa people. From here he ran the post office and wrote a history of the Odawa. As a councilor for the Odawa he participated in negotiations for the Treaty of 1855, which established a large home reservation for the Odawa in this area. Blackbird also helped Odawa veterans get pensions, and assisted with land claims. This site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Makade Binisii Wegamik

Kida maandaa ka kiiga etaabendaawaa. Ezhinikaadeg wagaa nakaazi maanpii odawaak gii bizhigewak odenwaa miinwaa gii zhin kaa daamgut wiikwaatoonsing. Miinwaa maanpii kade kii bindaatsit makade binissii maandaa pii 1815. Oosun gii odawawaa giimaa. Makade binissii kii maadsaa oowak kinamaagoo. Kiipshkaa bii maanpii gii bidaaa bimaadsiwin. Kiim noo biiga shebiiga minwaa gii shebiiaan. Nagwaa odaawak mazinigan. Maandaa wiigwaam gii zhiga maandaa pii abita 1800’s minwaa gii kaadaat. Aanjitoon maajiibiigan wiigwaam. Gii naagadawanda maajiibiigun wiigwaam.

Learn more about the rich history of the Northwest Lower Peninsula.

Image Credits:
Chief Andrew J. Blackbird – Andrew Blackbird – By Unknown –, Fair use,
Andrew Blackbird house/Museum – Andrew Blackbird Museum – By Royalbroil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,