6650 E. Broadway • Mt. Pleasant, MI 48858
Phone: 989-775-4750 • Fax: 989-775-4770
Open Mon. thru Sat. 10am - 6pm • Closed Sundays

Shannon Martin, Director • smartin@sagchip.org or William Johnson, Curator • wjohnson@sagchip.org
Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways • 6650 E. Broadway • Mt. Pleasant, MI  48858
Phone 989.775.4750 • Fax 989.775.4770 • www.sagchip.org/ziibiwing


For Immediate Release - October 3, 2012


Mt. Pleasant, Michigan - When William Johnson of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways was young he began working in a field that would later become his passion. His dedication, hard work, and his passion have all contributed toward him being honored by the Historical Society of Michigan with a “Distinguished Professional Service Award.” Willie, as he is known by all around him, was recognized at the State History Awards gala held on Friday, September 28 in Monroe, Michigan. It is his exceptional and lifelong dedication to local history that earned him this honor, but he remains humble. Willie states that “It’s hard to accept an honor that so many people are involved with..I will do my best to live up to the ideal of this award.”

He was nominated by his daughter, Ana, who wanted all of her father’s hard work to be acknowledged. Prior to being told that he was the recipient of the award, he knew nothing about it and was not aware that Anna had nominated him. The Historical Society of Michigan, the oldest cultural society in the state of Michigan, presents 17 different State History Awards annually. These awards are the highest honor the society can bestow upon an individual.

Born and raised in Bay City, Mich., Willie first began his career in the preservation of history at the Historical Museum of Bay County when he was just 15. In 1998, Willie was called back not only to his museum roots, but to his cultural roots. The Anishinabek people of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan had been losing not only their knowledge, but their cultural roots as well.

The beginnings of the Ziibiwing Center started in 1993, when the Ziibiwing Cultural Society was formed. Starting in 1998 Willie was a member of a small team that was responsible for the data and organization. His commitment went beyond just being a member of a team. He worked long hours at home, where he continued to analyze while sitting at his kitchen table, ensuring that every detail was just right. He took the time to photograph, identify, number, catalogue and store 368 pieces that were donated to the tribe by the late Caleb E. Calkins. His attention to detail as well as his devotion towards cataloguing systems did not go unnoticed, and he was given the title of Collection’s Manager.

Willie’s was involved in every aspect of the creation of the Ziibiwing Center, including the permanent exhibit development, cultural material acquisitions and replications, interior and exterior building design, policy and standard operating procedure development and crafting of the marketing plan. During this time, he continued to work on the Tribal priorities of attending to the Native American Graves Projection and Repatriation Act, as well as historic preservation.

The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways opened its doors to the public with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 21st, 2004, the day after Willies’ 39th birthday. The center, which is made up of 34,349 sq. ft., is a state-of-the-art tribal museum. Tribes from across the United States and Canada as well as representatives from Hawaii, the countries of Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have all been hosted by Willie and the staff of the Ziibiwing Center.  

Willie served as Interim Curator until the official position of Curator was offered to him in November of 2004. The Ziibiwing Center has received numerous awards in the eight years that it has been open, including the 2006 Museum Award from The Michigan Cultural Alliance, the 2008 Harvard University’s “Honoring Nations” Award and the 2009 “Institutional Excellence in Museums” Award by the National Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums. The award that Willie is most proud of is the American Association of Museum’s Media and Technology Committee’s Gold Muse Award for interpretation of multimedia, an award that the Ziibiwing beat out the Smithsonian Institute for.

Excavation has caused his ancestors to be removed from their resting places, studied and either put on display or put in boxes in storage rooms. Willie wants his ancestors brought home and given the traditional burial they deserve, and the Ziibiwing staff has worked with several Michigan museums and colleges to obtain their ancestors human remains as well as funerary artifacts.

Willie doesn't do any of it for the attention or the awards. He does it to spread knowledge and to keep his culture alive. He does it because it is his passion. He might be the man that gets everything done, but he won't ask for your attention. "I am able to humbly accept on behalf of my family and of the Ziibiwing Center and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe…those people are the reason we are successful." As for Willie, he'll stand off to the side and take it all in. He'll watch his hard work in action and know that what he is doing matters. Thanks to his dedication his culture will live on, and for him that's the most prestigious award he could receive.

The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, Mich. is the Midwest's Premier American Indian Museum. Established in 2004, the Ziibiwing Center is a distinctive treasure created to provide an enriched, diversified, and culturally relevant educational experience through its award-winning Diba Jimooyung (Telling Our Story) permanent exhibit, changing exhibits, research center, Ojibwe language immersion room, gift shop, Wi-Fi coffee & media lounge, and meeting rooms. The Ziibiwing Center is a non-profit cultural center and museum belonging to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan who also own Michigan's only four diamond casino resort, the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, and the Saganing Eagles Landing Casino located in Standish, Mich.

# # # #