Laughing Whitefish: A Tale of Justice and Anishinaabe Custom
Matthew L. M. Fletcher
Michigan State University College of Law
September 29, 2008
Robert Traver, LAUGHING WHITEFISH, Foreward, 1965, Michigan State University Press, Reprint 2011
MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-16
Laughing Whitefish, a novel by Robert Traver, the pen name of former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker, is the fictionalized story of a case that reached the Michigan Supreme Court three times, culminating in Kobogum v. Jackson Iron Co., 43 N.W. 602 (Mich. 1889). The petitioner, Charlotte Kobogum, an Ojibwe Indian from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, brought suit to recover under a note issued to her father, Marji Gesick, by the mining company in the 1840s. The company had promised a share in the company because he had led them to one of the largest iron ore deposits in the country, the famed Jackson Mine. Despite the company's defense that Mr. Gesick was a polygamist and therefore Ms. Kobogum could not be his legitimate heir, the Michigan Supreme Court held that state courts had no right to interfere with internal, domestic relations of reservation Indians, and upheld the claim. Justice Voelker's tale is a powerful defense of the decision, and offers insights into why state courts should recognize the judgments of tribal courts even today.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 14
Keywords: Indian tribe, customary law, polygamy, law and literature, Robert Traver
Date posted: September 30, 2008 ; Last revised: November 23, 2010
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