Bringing Detroit’s Indigenous history to the forefront

Associate Professor Karen Marrero shares what we can do to prevent Indigenous history from being further erased.

City of Detroit skyline and Hart Plaza.

Dodge Fountain at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.

The city of Detroit turns 321 years old this Sunday, but its history predates the French. To learn more about the land’s Indigenous roots, CultureShift spoke with Karen Marrero, Associate Professor at Wayne State University and author of “Detroit’s Hidden Channels: The Power of French-Indigenous Families in the Eighteenth Century.” She researches, writes and teaches early North American and Indigenous history.

She says a lot of what was once here was erased by the settler presence at the turn of the nineteenth century. Indigenous peoples continue to maintain their connection to the land through oral histories passed down within their nations, but physical reminders of the past are scarce.

“There isn’t much left.”

Marrero says there’s only one remaining burial mound in Historic Fort Wayne, which would symbolize a thriving Native presence, but there used to be many more, and that one used to be much larger.

This lack of preservation is not unique to Detroit, but there are still things we can do to reinstate cultural consciousness of this land’s history. For example, the Michigan History Center is making an effort to address the lack of historical markers that would designate significant Indigenous spaces.

“A lot of people don’t realize that roadways like I-94 started life as Indigenous roadways.”

Marrero also says that Woodward started as part of the Saginaw Trail, and that making these pieces of information more widely available could start to reconcile the erasure of the past.

“We have a long way to go to bring back some of that history.”

Listen: History Professor Karen Marrero reflects on Detroit’s indigenous history


Photo Credit: Jake Neher, WDET

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. If you value WDET as your source of news, music and conversation, please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.
  • Sophia Jozwiak
    Sophia Jozwiak is the Digital Content and Communities Assistant for 101.9 WDET.