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The journey to re-establish Ma’iingan Wildwood Path in Detroit’s Rouge Park and honor Indigenous journalist Etta S. Wilson – Detroit Metro Instances


click to enlarge A photo from 1920 of Etta S. Wilson holding a chickadee. - Courtesy of Friends of Rouge Park

Courtesy of Associates of Rouge Park

A photograph from 1920 of Etta S. Wilson holding a chickadee.

Again within the Seventies, Ma’iingan Wildwood Path in Detroit’s Rouge Park was frequented by hundreds of leisurely hikers. It’s overgrown and light today, however non-profit group Associates of Rouge Park is working to revive it whereas honoring the Indigenous lady for whom it’s named.

That lady is Etta S. Wilson, an ornithologist (professional on birds), conservationist, and journalist who helped set up the path within the Thirties. Wilson was a trailblazer — she was reportedly one of many first feminine journalists in Michigan and co-founder of the Michigan Girls’s Press Affiliation in 1890 and the Michigan Girls’s Press Membership.

She fought for feminine journalists to cowl subjects apart from trend (thank the gods), which was widespread follow within the male-dominated trade on the time.

A ceremonial blessing to rededicate the path to Wilson was held on Saturday, Sept. 10, as Associates of Rouge Park continues their work to rebuild it. The occasion crammed the trailhead with African and Indigenous music and dance as a part of the Detroit Parks Coalition’s Freedom Arts Competition — a summer-long initiative to attach Detroiters with inexperienced areas all through town with free artwork and tradition celebrations.

“A lot of our historical past will get forgotten and [Wilson] was vital in serving to protect native habitats,” Associates of Rouge President Sally Petrella says. “Take into consideration, particularly throughout COVID, the place we acknowledged the worth of our inexperienced areas and parks as vital infrastructure and locations to go to attach with nature. [Wilson] was an enormous a part of the historical past of that. To attach again to her Native American heritage and the individuals who lived on this land earlier than white individuals settled it’s actually vital.”

Again in 1935 when Wilson and the Louisa St. Clair Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution acquired the path constructed, it was referred to as the Wildwood Path. Associates of Rouge Park added Ma’iingan to the title on the Freedom Arts Competition to honor Wilson’s Odawa heritage.  Ma’iingan was her father’s surname, which is Odawa for “wolf.”

Following Wilson’s passing in 1936, a boulder and plaque commemorating her have been added to the trailhead, however each have been later stolen. The two.5-mile path all however vanished after a crossing bridge collapsed and upkeep ceased.

With the gracious assist of volunteers, Associates of Rouge has already carved out elements of the dwindling Ma’iingan Wildwood Path through the years, however there may be nonetheless work to be finished, Petrella tells Metro Instances. The path begins close to Sorenson Recreation Space, the place the dedication was held, and connects to Rouge Park’s Stone Bridge Nature Path.

“Connecting these two ends of the path is the following step,” Petrella says. “Since we don’t have the funding to reinstall the bridge we’re having to reroute the path to make use of a bridge that goes over the Rouge River at Warren. However on both finish, it’s pretty well-established and well-marked. We had some volunteers engaged on it final week.”

click to enlarge The community gathered during the Ma'iingan Wildwood Trail rededication. Indigenous elder Lucy Harrison (left) led a ceremonial blessing. - Courtesy of Friends of Rouge Park

Courtesy of Associates of Rouge Park

The group gathered through the Ma’iingan Wildwood Path rededication. Indigenous elder Lucy Harrison (left) led a ceremonial blessing.

It can additionally join with the Detroit Sugarbush Venture, the place members of the Indigenous group harvest sap from maple timber to make use of for maple sugar and syrup. The Sugarbush was disrupted by police throughout a ceremony to welcome the season final 12 months in the identical park.

Sugarbush Venture organizer Antonio Cosme calls Wilson an early feminist who was combating for land conservation even exterior of Detroit.”

“She’s simply a type of individuals who every little thing she touched was gold,” he says. “In some ways, her ecological relationship in historical past marks the start of the conservation motion taking place throughout that point too. She did lots of work to assist shield habitats up north at a time when the vast majority of forests in Michigan have been being destroyed.”

Curiously sufficient, the explanation why Wilson began birding and getting enthusiastic about ecology was that an unknown illness left her with paralysis of the neck in 1906. Because it was practically unattainable to look down at her typewriter with out ache, as Associates of Rouge tells it, she began trying up towards the sky and have become fascinated by birds. She lived close to Rouge Park and will ceaselessly be seen birdwatching on the path.

Wilson additionally reportedly rejected the Ma’inngan title as an adolescent and didn’t embrace her Indigenous roots till later in life. These roots preserve Wilson’s work grounded in ancestral connections to the land as one thing sacred that must be protected.

“It’s so clear that each one all through her profession that deep ancestral connection was flowing by way of her, and that’s lovely,” Cosme says. “It’s only a testomony that it’s by no means too late to embrace your roots and your tradition.”

Cosme and Petrella hope to finish the path’s connection from Sorenson Recreation Space to the Stone Bridge Nature Path this fall. It can take heaps extra volunteers and funding to complete the ultimate loop, from Tireman to Pleasure Street, which Petrella plans for subsequent 12 months.

At 1,300 acres, Rouge Park is Detroit’s largest, and maybe most underutilized. Sure, it’s greater than Belle Isle, regardless of being a lot much less fashionable. Perhaps rebuilding this path that was as soon as fashionable through the park’s heyday will assist Detroiters notice its worth.

Extra details about Associates of Rouge Park is on the market at

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