How Did Michigan Get Its Name?

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The state of Michigan is named after the Ojibwe Indian word "Michigama," which means "great lake" or "land surrounded by water." The Ojibwe were one of the eight Native American tribes to reside in present-day Michigan prior to colonization. Michigan's contemporary nickname, The Great Lake State, is a fairly accurate translation of the Ojibwe term.

Michigan was inhabited by Native American Indian tribes from at least 11,000 B.C. When the first Europeans arrived, the three largest tribes in terms of population were members of the Algonquin peoples. The Algonquin were a linguistic group of native peoples who spoke Algonquin, including the Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Odawa tribes. The first European contact came in the form of Frenchman Étienne Brûlé in 1620. For the rest of the 17th century, the French built forts and outposts to establish trade and facilitate colonization, culminating in Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, which would later become the city of Detroit.

The Ojibwe were the first people to openly interact with the French in Michigan, trading furs and knowledge of the area for guns and goods. They allied themselves with the Potawatomi and Odawa tribes to form what the French called the Council of Three Fires. This united faction used the advanced French weaponry to eventually take over the whole of the southern and northern peninsulas as well as modern-day Wisconsin and most of Minnesota by the end of the 18th century.