Situated on the side of W. Lakeshore Drive near Bay Mills, Michigan, is the Old Indian Burial Ground. Dedicated in 1841, the cemetery is associated with the Bay Mills Indian Community or Gnoozhekaaning.
One of the most striking features of the cemetery are the wooden Ojibwa spirit houses constructed over many of the graves. Their purpose was to protect the body while the soul crossed over into the spirit world. These spirit houses were built from wooden planks and feature a peaked roof. They were typically 2-feet tall and covered the length and width of the grave. A round hole was cut in the western end for the deceased’s spirit to escape. Food offerings, tools, and items of significance to the dead were placed inside or on a small shelf by the opening. The Bay Mills spirit houses are now gray, weathered, and spotted with patches of lichens and moss. Some have begun to break apart from age and exposure.
Prominently featured inside the cemetery is a huge white pine tree. Painted on a wooden sign propped at its base is this inscription:
“THE LEGEND OF THIS PINE TREE – Among the Indians who moved from Nay Oh Me Kong to what is now the Indian mission at Bay Mills was a little girl of fifteen named Eliza Waishkey, nee Eliza Labranch. It was Eliza who selected the tree, then only a twig, and planted it at the head of her father’s grave, who was Chief John Waishkey of the Waishkey band of Chippewa Indians. The tree, a white pine, was planted about the year 1841.”
The sign, painted some considerable length of time after the tree was planted, may be inaccurate. Michigan death records indicate that Chief John Waishkey died on July 10, 1879, at the age of 54. A daughter, Eliza Waishkey was born in Bay Mills, Michigan, in 1851. She was 28-years-old when her father died. It is still possible that she planted the tree at his grave at the time of his death, however, the date inaccuracies make the sentiment of the inscription no less evocative.
Know Before You Go
The cemetery is closed to the public. However, the property can be easily viewed and photographed from the perimeter.