Art Duhamel was a member of The Grand Traverse Band of Native Americans in Peshawbestown.
He was also a fisherman by trade.
Peg Siciliano, an archivist at the History Center of Traverse City said Duhamel was born in Peshawbestown but moved away for several decades before coming back with his family in 1972.
â??He became the inspirational leader that was able to gather the other people from the tribe together and really get out and start fighting for the rights they needed in order to improve themselves,â?? Siciliano said.
In the 1970s and 1980s Duhamel played a key role in getting the natives their fishing rights for them to fish in the Grand Traverse Bay, as well as recognition as a tribe from the federal government.
â??There was this real concern, not only among white fisherman, but others, that if the Native Americans had an unrestricted right to fish the way they had 100 years ago, that it would ruin the sports fishing up here,â?? Siciliano said.
The Native Americans, according to Siciliano, used two fishing methods. One was called gill fishing, where they used a large net to catch many fish at one time. The other method was spear fishing.
â??By the mid-twentieth century, there were not only more Native Americans, but more outlets for them to sell their fish,â?? Siciliano said. â??So if they were able to compete using methods that the non-Native fishermen were not able to use, the non-Native fisherman felt that they would be at a disadvantage.â??
When Duhamel eventually moved back to town he saw the condition the Natives were in and was determined to make change.
â??I think when he came back he was surprised at how unhappy a lot of the people were up there,â?? Siciliano said. â??And he was surprised by the conditions that some of the people there were living in.â??
Siciliano said Duhamel knew that other tribes were not in that condition because some tribes were formally recognized by the government in the early 20th century and they received government assistance.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians gained their federal recognition by the U.S. government May 27, 1980.
Siciliano said they were the first tribe in the United States to be recognized under the new system that is used today.
Though Duhamel succeeded in getting the Natives their rights, he was faced with much adversity along the way.
â??Before the rights were actually granted he would go out and fish that way anyway, and he would be arrested for doing that,â?? Siciliano said. â??There was a lot of harassment from people who were afraid that if this change came it would be really detrimental to their livelihoods.â??
The struggles Duhamel faced pale in comparison to what his determination did for the community then and now.
â??Today we have this very vibrant community, but it also enriches our community in general,â?? Siciliano said. â??When each group that makes up a community is thriving, the whole community thrives.â??
The Legends of the Grand Traverse Region: Community out of Diversity exhibit opens at the History Center of Traverse City Saturday, Sept. 22. You can find more information about the History Center of Traverse City or the Legends Exhibit