Ever heard of the Nain Rouge? No? Neither had I, that is until a conversation I had a few weeks ago. From our perspective of having been born and raised in the City of Detroit, a friend and I were talking about the seemingly endless trials and travails faced by the City through the years, up to and including the current bankruptcy filing. My friend suggested I conduct a web search of the name, “Nain Rouge.” I did and was surprised by what I found.
Nain Rouge is French for “red dwarf” or “red gnome.” Nain Rouge is a mythical creature that originated in Normandy, France. According to Wikipedia, the Nain Rouge is believed to haunt the City of Detroit and is feared by residents as the harbinger of doom. The earliest alleged sighting was in 1701 when Detroit’s first settler, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, was reportedly confronted and taunted by the Nain Rouge. A frustrated Cadillac hit Nain Rouge with his cane and, according to legend, became cursed for life. Shortly thereafter Cadillac lost his fortune and died penniless. Since then, claimed sightings have coincided with one disaster or another that has befallen the City of Detroit, including the great fire of 1805, the 1967 riots, and a severe snow/ice storm in 1976.
While some (whether seriously or in jest) would like to blame Nain Rouge, the problems faced by the City of Detroit are man-made and long standing; the current bankruptcy filing is the inevitable result. While the Detroit bankruptcy is garnering national (and even international) attention, it will doubtless soon be replaced on the national stage by the next catastrophe du jour. But, for us here, it will continue to draw substantial attention for the foreseeable future. As you listen and read the reports, remember that municipal bankruptcy filings are not like other bankruptcies. They are rare and incredibly complex. And Detroit’s is the biggest one ever. The judge, the attorneys, and everyone involved face largely uncharted waters, and many new legal precedents will result. For the legal community, the arguments and rulings that unfold will be fascinating. But those arguments and rulings will affect ordinary people in their day-to-day lives for years to come. Be assured that the reality of these proceedings will continue to weigh heavily on everyone involved.