Waunetta McClellan Dominic

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Waunetta McClellan Dominic
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Waunetta G. McClellan

(1921-07-23)July 23, 1921
DiedDecember 21, 1981(1981-12-21) (aged 60)
Petoskey, Michigan
Other namesWaunetta McClellan, Waunetta Dominic
OccupationNative American rights activist
Years active1948–1981
Known forco-founding the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association

Waunetta McClellan Dominic (23 July 1921 – 21 December 1981) was an Odawa rights activist who spent her career advocating for the United States government to adhere to its treaty obligations to Native Americans. She was one of the founders of the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association and her influence was widely recognized, especially after winning a 1971 claim against the government for compensation under 19th century treaties. She was also a proponent of Native American fishing rights being protected. In 1979, she was named by The Detroit News as "Michiganian of the Year" and in 1996, she was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.

Odawa Indigenous people of North America

The Odawa, said to mean "traders", are an Indigenous American ethnic group who primarily inhabit land in the northern United States and southern Canada. They have long had territory that crosses the current border between the two countries, and they are federally recognized as Native American tribes in the United States and have numerous recognized First Nations bands in Canada. They are one of the Anishinaabeg, related to but distinct from the Ojibwe and Potawatomi peoples.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii and territories of the United States. More than 570 federally recognized tribes live within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaskan Natives, while "Native Americans" are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. The US Census does not include Native Hawaiians or Chamorro, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

<i>The Detroit News</i> major newspaper of the Detroit, Michigan area

The Detroit News is one of the two major newspapers in the U.S. city of Detroit, Michigan. The paper began in 1873, when it rented space in the rival Detroit Free Press's building. The News absorbed the Detroit Tribune on February 1, 1919, the Detroit Journal on July 21, 1922, and on November 7, 1960, it bought and closed the faltering Detroit Times. However, it retained the Times' building, which it used as a printing plant until 1975, when a new facility opened in Sterling Heights. The Times building was demolished in 1978. The street in downtown Detroit where the Times building once stood is still called "Times Square." The Evening News Association, owner of The News, merged with Gannett in 1985.


Early life

Waunetta G. McClellan was born on 23 July 1921 in Petoskey, Michigan [1] to Elizabeth "Lizzie" (née Taylor) and Levi P. McClellan. [1] [2] [3] Her great-grandfather was a leader of the Grand River Band of Ottawas. [4] She initially attended school in Petoskey and completed her studies at the Haskell Indian Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. Marrying Robert Dominic in 1940, the couple made their home in Detroit and Flint, before returning to Petoskey in 1944. [1]

Petoskey, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Petoskey is a city and coastal resort community in the U.S. state of Michigan. The population was estimated at approximately close to 5,670 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Emmet County.

Haskell Indian Nations University is a federally operated tribal university in Lawrence, Kansas. Founded in 1884 as a residential boarding school for American Indian children, the school has developed as a North Central Association-accredited university that offers both associate and baccalaureate degrees. The college was founded to serve members of federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.

Lawrence, Kansas City and County seat in Kansas, United States

Lawrence is the county seat of Douglas County and sixth-largest city in Kansas. It is located in the northeastern sector of the state, astride Interstate 70, between the Kansas and Wakarusa Rivers. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 87,643; though by 2017 the population rose to 96,892. Lawrence is a college town and the home to both the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.


The Indian termination policy established by the federal government in the 1940s created the Indian Claims Commission in 1946, as a means of compensating tribes for previous land takings, undervaluations of compensation, and abridgement of rights. [5] The problem for the Odawa was that the 1855 Treaty of Detroit had been interpreted as severing the tribal governments of each of the bands. [6] To be eligible for filing a claim, they first had to confirm that the bands had "continued to be distinct, self-governing nations". [7] In 1946, the Dominics called for a meeting of local tribes at the local Petoskey grocery store. Only 20 members showed up, making them realize the need to organize. Traveling throughout the state to document descendants of Odawa listed on the Durant Roll (1907–1910), they identified 3,000 American Indians who might be eligible to pursue claims against the U. S. government. [8] In 1948, Dominic, her father, and her husband founded the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association (NMOA), with Robert serving as president of the organization and Waunetta serving as secretary. [9] The organization contained eleven bands of northern Odawa who had been signatories to the 1836 Treaty of Washington and the subsequently signed 1855 Treaty of Detroit. [10] [11] The following year, they filed a claim under the Claims Commission. [8]

Indian termination was the policy of the United States from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. It was shaped by a series of laws and policies with the intent of assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American society. Assimilation was not new. The belief that indigenous people should abandon their traditional lives and become "civilized" had been the basis of policy for centuries. But what was new was the sense of urgency, that with or without consent, tribes must be terminated and begin to live "as Americans". To that end, Congress set about ending the special relationship between tribes and the federal government. The intention was to grant Native Americans all the rights and privileges of citizenship, reduce their dependence on a bureaucracy whose mismanagement had been documented, and eliminate the expense of providing services for native people.

The Indian Claims Commission was a judicial relations arbiter between the United States federal government and Native American tribes. It was established under the Indian Claims Act in 1946 by the United States Congress to hear any longstanding claims of Indian tribes against the United States. It took until the late 1970s to complete most of them, with the last case finished in the early 21st century.

The Treaty of Detroit of 1855 was a treaty between the United States Government and the Ottawa and Chippewa Nations of Indians of Michigan. The treaty contained provisions to allot individual tracts of land to Native people consisting of 40-acre (16 ha) plots for single individuals and 80-acre (32 ha) plots for families, outlined specific tracts which were assigned to the various bands and provided for the severance of the government consolidation of the Ottawa and Chippewa.

Because most of the tribes their organization represented were not reservation tribes, Dominic was concerned about their lack of access to health care. She fought for the right for NMOA members to be treated at the Upper Peninsula's Kinchloe Indian Clinic. Recognizing how few Michigan Indians had received higher education, she discovered federal programs that could be utilized and worked to assist Indian students in obtaining grants and scholarships. [12] Dominic also was a driving force in the Michigan State tuition waiver program for Native American Students. [13]

Upper Peninsula of Michigan Northern major peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan

The Upper Peninsula (UP), also known as Upper Michigan, is the northern of the two major peninsulas that make up the U.S. state of Michigan. The peninsula is bounded on the north by Lake Superior, on the east by the St. Marys River, and on the south by Lake Michigan, the Straits of Mackinac, and Lake Huron. Topographically, the base of the Upper Peninsula as a geologic feature lies in northeastern Wisconsin between the base of the Door Peninsula and Superior Bay; but in political geography, because most of the peninsula is within the boundaries of Michigan, it is measured eastward from the Porcupine Mountains, from the Wisconsin–Michigan boundary along and between the Montreal and Menominee rivers.

"You can call us unrecognized, but don't call us unorganized, and furthermore, I don't care if you recognize me or not," said Dominic, "Recognize my Rights".

—Waunetta Dominic, 1972 speech to the U. S. Congress [14] [15]

In 1959, the government conceded that the bands of Chippewa and Odawa who had signed the treaties had ceded nearly 13,000,000 acres of land and were entitled to a reassessment of whether they were paid a fair value. Because the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, L’Anse Lac Vieux Desert Band of Chippewa, and the Ontonagon Band of Chippewa had reorganized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, their members were removed as claimants in the suit, which then went to arbitration over the amount of settlement. [16] Dominic traversed the state examining land records in each county in the state to analyze the variance in payment made to American Indians and the price white settlers sold their lands for historically. She discovered that when the treaties were written in the nineteenth century, Native Americans were paid half of one cent to seventeen cents per acre, when white transactions in the same period were negotiated between ninety-two and ninety-seven cents per acre. [17]

Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is a band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, many of whom reside on the Lac Vieux Desert Indian Reservation, located near Watersmeet, Michigan. It is approximately 45 miles southeast of Ironwood, Michigan in Gogebic County.

Finally winning a $12.1 million settlement in 1971, which was reduced to $10.3 million because of funds previously paid, [18] [19] the Dominic's battle continued. [10] [20] Having won the judgement, the problem became how it was to be distributed. The Claims Commission recognized the NMOA and allowed it to pursue the case, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to allow the association to reorganize under the Indian Reorganization Act, claiming that as an association rather than a tribal government, each band would need to seek individual recognition. [21] [22] The initial bill proposed to direct the distribution was rejected by Dominic, as it did not include either non-reservation tribes people [23] (at that point the only reservation tribes were the three which had been eliminated from the suit and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which had been reorganized in 1972) [16] [24] nor the blood quantum requirements the tribe members wanted. [25] [26]

Dominic was the spokesperson for the (NMOA) on fishing rights, often acting as an intermediary between Native and white fisherman. [27] In the 1975 a lawsuit, United States v. Michigan, was filed concerning those fishing rights and she testified to tribal procedures for issuing licenses and penalties for infractions. [28] The 1979 ruling allowed tribes to continue with gill net fishing, though controversy would continue until 1985 over fishing rights. [29] In 1976, upon her husband's death, Dominic became president of the NMOA and led the organization until her death. [27] Throughout the 1970s, she traveled giving assistance to Odawa with their genealogical records to allow them to participate in the claim distribution and fought to secure that $1.8 million of those funds were set aside for tribes which did not gain federal recognition. [14] [30] She was noted as one of the most influential Native Americans in the state, having led the NMOA to become the largest American Indian organization in the state. In 1979, she was honored by The Detroit News as "Michiganian of the Year". [27]

Death and legacy

Dominic died on 21 December 1981 in Petoskey at Northern Michigan Hospital. [27] She was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1996. [14] Eventually all the bands of the NOMA would gain recognition, though three of the bands, the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes of Michigan and ironically, her own band, the Grand River Band of Ottawas are only recognized at the state level. [11] [31] In 1998, the federal government finally agreed to distribute the funds awarded to the Odawa. Having been held in trust since 1971, the final amount of the award was close to $74 million. [20] In 2014, Dominic was again recognized by the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, during an exhibit hosted to celebrate six women involved in the struggle for Civil Rights. [32]

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