Dec. 2, Chief Ronald F. Ekdahl (second from right) signs a
Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Tribe's co-management
of the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park, along with
the State of Michigan (left to right: Shannon Martin, director
of the Ziibiwing Center; Sandra Clark, director of Michigan
History Center DNR; Ekdahl; and Sarah Hegyi, tribal historic
On Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, Chief Ronald F. Ekdahl was joined by Department
of Natural Resources (DNR) representative Sandra Clark to sign a
groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
The MOU will establish the beginning of the Tribe's co-management
of the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park, or ezhibiigadek
asin (written on stone), with the State of Michigan's DNR.
This ceremonial signing took place at 10 a.m. in the Black Elk
Government Complex, located at 7500 Soaring Eagle Blvd. in Mount
The signing marked the first State/Tribal co-management of a state
park in Michigan.
"This partnership is a major step forward in strengthening the
authentic interpretation of the Sanilac Petroglyphs site, which
speaks to the connections of humankind to nature and the earth,"
said DNR Director Daniel Eichinger, co-signer of the MOU. "We hope
this collaboration will serve as a model, both within and beyond
Michigan, of respectful, inclusive, equitable management practices
that protect important historic resources while helping people understand
their relationship to them."
Donated to the State of Michigan by the Michigan Archaeological
Society and managed by the DNR since 1971, the petroglyphs are the
largest known group of ancient rock carvings in the state.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the park covers
240 acres along the Cass River near Cass City in Michigan's Thumb
Stone tools and pottery found on the petroglyphs site on the Cass
River floodplain show tribal groups have occupied the area periodically
throughout the last 8,000 years. The petroglyphs were likely carved
within the last 1,400 years, with some possibly created in more
The Tribe and State began discussions about the preservation and
stewardship of ezhibiigadek asin (Sanilac
Petroglyphs Historic State Park) in 2003. These early conversations
about the site involving the Tribe, the Michigan Archaeological
Society and the State broke down.
As the Tribe considered how to move forward, in 2005-2010 it joined
the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project,
an international study of issues related to cultural and intellectual
knowledge, how that knowledge is used, who has access, and who benefits.
The IPinCH Report affirmed the Tribe's commitment to protect and
preserve ezhibiigaadek asin and concluded that it should continue
working with the state toward
"This site is special and sacred to the Anishinabeg. It is a clear
indication of the unique origins and history of the Saginaw Chippewa
Indian Tribe. We know our ancestors were thinking of us when they
left the lessons in stone," said
Bonnie Ekdahl, tribal elder and former director of the Ziibiwing
Center. Bonnie Ekdahl continued, "The MOU creates a relationship
that ties us to this beautiful site and marks an important step
of acknowledgement and inclusion of the Tribe. I am very thankful
and proud of the team at the Ziibiwing Center who preserved and
carried the vision for over 15 years, and it is especially incredible
to know my son (Ronald F. Ekdahl) is involved with the final step,
The IPinCH Report also prompted the Tribe to engage in conversations
about using advanced technology to record the carvings. The petroglyphs
are carved in relatively soft Marshall Sandstone. After centuries
of natural weathering and decades of recent human activity, some
carvings have faded, disappeared or been vandalized.
In April 2018, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) specialists
used terrestrial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) along with
detailed close-up photographs to build digital models that will
document the site and can be used to track changes in the petroglyphs
MDOT's partners in the project included the State Historic Preservation
Office (Michigan State Housing Development Authority), the Ziibiwing
Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, the Saginaw Chippewa
Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and the DNR's Michigan History
Center and Parks and Recreation Division.
Images and information from the petroglyphs preservation project
were featured on the 2018 Michigan
Archaeology poster. The free poster is available upon request from
the State Historic Preservation Office or at the Ziibiwing Center.
"This culturally-significant site will be enhanced through a partnership
that this MOU creates," said Ronald F. Ekdahl. "We are excited to
be working alongside the State of Michigan in preserving this unique
piece of Native American history. It will also allow for future
opportunities for preservation and historical education. This is
just another example of the collaboration between our Tribal government
and the State and we will continue to work together on important
issues like these."
Guided tours of ezhibiigadek asin (Sanilac Petroglyphs) are available
in the summer months. Learn more about Sanilac
Petroglyphs Historic State Park on the DNR website.
To see the 2018 Michigan Archaeology poster featuring the petroglyphs
and the LiDAR survey, visit Michigan.gov/Archaeology