A ghost among other ghosts: Kyle T. Mays, ‘Pontiac’s Ghost in the Motor City: Indigeneity and the Discursive Construction of Modern Detroit, Middle West Review, 2, 2, 2016, pp. 115-142

05Aug16

Excerpt: To local Detroiters and throughout the United States, the name Pontiac holds many meanings. Most know about the name of the now discontinued General Motors automobile. A quick Google search of “Pontiac” reveals, first, the General Motors brand and, then, the city Pontiac, Michigan. The third “Pontiac” subject that emerges is the Odawa war chief who helped stage an epic battle against the British in 1763. Perhaps it sounds bizarre to state the obvious, but Pontiac the man, the historical figure, preceded the vehicle and the city. On the eve of an auto revolution, Detroiters in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century knew about Pontiac the historical figure, in the form of “Pontiac’s conspiracy.”

For instance, in 1872 an article proclaimed that Pontiac “made himself so prominent that his name will be remembered by Detroiters for a hundred years to come.”1 Similarly, in 1899, one local wrote, “Before the white man’s foot had trodden the wilderness where now stand thriving and populous cities and while the red man still held undisputed sway over the territory in the region the great lakes, the name Pontiac was a familiar and honored word.”2 An article in 1913 wrote of Pontiac’s importance to local Detroit legends, “a name, next to a mound of earth, is one of the most persistent things in the world.”3 Pontiac was an important part of Detroit’s presence in the late nineteenth century and beyond. But now, Pontiac the man exists mostly as a ghost of Detroit’s past. What accounts for this?

In contemporary Detroit, one would be hard-pressed to find any traces of Indigenous people and their history.



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