Aa a member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe, I feel it is important to help pass on it's history and traditions. May first novel concentrated on the Hopi tribe and its creation prophecy. One of the novels I'm working on at the moment will move to my own tribe. The following was taken from my tribes official site.
The Potawatomi are among the wave of Algonquian-speaking people who occupied the Great Lakes region from prehistoric times through the early 1800’s. Oral traditions explain that the ancient Potawatomi people were once part of an immense group that had traveled down the eastern shores of North America along the Atlantic Ocean. This large group, the Chippewa (Ojibwa), Ottawa (Odawa), and the Potawatomi all constituted a single tribe where they later split at Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada and went their separate ways. Through early historic records, it has been confirmed that the Potawatomi were living in Michigan and had established an autonomous tribal identify at least 500 years ago.
Scholars have debated the origin and translation of the word “Potawatomi” for many years. Nevertheless, the Potawatomi people firmly believe that the Chippewa applied the term to them, meaning “people of the place of the fire” since they retained the original council fire once shared by all three tribes. Today, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation refers to themselves as the Nishnabec or the “True People.”
During the mid 1650’s, French traders visited the tribe and found them growing corn, gathering wild rice, and harvesting an abundant supply of fish and waterfowl from the western waters of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The Potawatomi had recently relocated from southern Michigan just after the eruption of the Beaver Wars in the 1640’s. Actual first contact between Europeans and the Potawatomi was established in 1634 by a French trader named Jean Nicolet at a place that is now called Red Bank, on the Door Peninsula, along the western shore of Lake Michigan.
At the height of the Fur Trading Era that spanned an entire century, the Potawatomi controlled a tribal estate that encompassed Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and a small portion of Ohio or over 5 million acres. This was accomplished through long standing leadership and savvy business skills. The Potawatomi were simply not satisfied with trapping furs. Instead, they entered into a rivalry with the Ottawa for a share in the role as middleman for trade into the Green Bay area. Using their entrepreneurial skills, they began to hire other local tribesman to collect and trap the furs that they once procured. In turn, they would sell or trade the furs to the French, thus expanding their tribal control and estate over a vast area.
By the 1700’s, the Potawatomi were well known to the French on the St. Lawrence River. It is clear that the Potawatomi adapted to their wilderness environment. They mainly traveled Lake Michigan and its tributaries rather than traveling over the land on horseback. Canoes were made from birch-bark and hollowed out logs and could range in length from family-size up to 50 feet to carry several warriors. The lakes and streams around the southern tip of Lake Michigan were full of fish. Much of the fishing was done from pine dugouts or birch-bark canoes. These vessels also were used to hunt the flocks of waterfowl that migrated through the bay region in the autumn. In surrounding forests and nearby prairies, the Potawatomi hunted deer, bears, buffalo, and smaller game. During the winters, many Potawatomi families left the larger villages to establish small hunting camps in unpopulated areas. The vegetables in their diet were relieved with fish and game.
The Potawatomi exercised horticulture, gathering, hunting, and fishing. From the gardens surrounding the villages, the Potawatomi women cultivated such crops as beans, squash, pumpkin, onions, and tobacco. They also raised an abundance of corn, which was traded to the French, the Chippewa, and other northern tribes. Wild rice was harvested along shores in addition to nuts, roots, and berries.
Many of the animals that the Potawatomi killed for food also furnished skins for clothing. Deerskin was fashioned into shirts, leggings, and moccasins for men and into loose dresses and moccasins for women. In the winter, both deerskin and buffalo clothing was worn and decorated with dyed porcupine quills or shells and glass beads. As the Potawatomi traded with the French, they replaced their traditional deerskin clothing with cotton shirts and leggings and with dresses of brightly colored materials. Potawatomi women wore distinctive large collars or shawls lined in silver brooches over their dresses. They also wore long skirts covered in ribbonwork. Men wore fur turbans made from animal fur rather than long headdresses of feathers. On special occasions men would wear feathers in a turban and bearclaw necklaces around their necks. Both men and women wore moccasins with large flaps over the shoe. The flap would always be beaded with flower designs.
One of the major social events in the spring was the tapping of the Maple trees for their sugar. Villages would come together after long winters to trade and conduct naming and marriage ceremonies. People, young and old, would dress in their finest regalia to dance and celebrate. Men would play drums made of stretched animal hides over bent poles or hollowed out logs partially filled with water and covered in hides. The Potawatomi had rattles made from wood and deer hooves. Men would also play flutes both made from wood and from animal bones. Children would make Maple sugar cones from different shapes of birch-bark containers. In fact, the Potawatomi used sugar to flavor food rather than salt.
Potawatomi lived in birch bark wigwams that were dome-shaped. In the summer they would cover them in woven reed mats. Cedar was used to cover the floor and to provide a fresh scent. The mats were easily detached so they could carry them when moving. Inside the wigwam was sleeping mats, extra clothing, storage containers, vessels, and cooking utensils. Potawatomi women made baskets and bags from the bark of such trees as the white cedar. Other storage containers were made of elm and hickory bark or of animal skins. Prior to French contact, Potawatomi women used mussel shells and wood spoons and ladles. By the end of the 1700’s, the Potawatomi used common trade items such as iron kettles and metal utensils for cooking.
Potawatomi men usually shaved their heads except for a scalp lock. When going to war, warriors adorned themselves with red and black paint. Men painted their faces and bodies for these occasions. Men also used wooden war clubs for hand to hand combat. When hunting, they relied on bows and arrows, fish nets, and fish spears.
By 1800, tribal villages were displaced by white settlements and pushed farther and farther to the outskirts of the Potawatomi tribal estate. It was during the Removal Period of the 1830’s that the Mission Band (today known as the Citizen Band) of Potawatomi were forced to leave their homelands in the Wabash River Valley of Indiana. From Indiana, the Mission Band was forced to march across four states (over 660 miles) to a new reserve in Kansas. Of the 850 Potawatomi people forced to move, more than 40 died along the way. The event is known in Potawatomi history as the “Potawatomi Trail of Death (September-November 1838.)”
Between 1838 and 1861, the Mission Potawatomi lived on a small reserve with the Prairie Potawatomi in Kansas. The Prairie Potawatomi had ventured west onto the Great Plains at a much earlier period than the Mission Band, interacted with the Sioux, and adapted different lifeways. Both cultural groups exhibited very different ceremonial and subsistence strategies, yet were forced to share the land. Seeking a better opportunity for its people, the Mission Potawatomi leaders chose to take small farms rather than live together with the Prairie Potawatomi. Shortly thereafter, and not fully understanding the tax system, most of the new individual allotments of land passed out of Mission Band ownership and into that of white settlers and traders. In 1867, Mission Potawatomi members signed a treaty selling their Kansas lands in order to purchase lands in Indian Territory with the proceeds. To reinforce the new land purchase and learning from their Kansas experience, tribal members took U.S. citizenship. From that time on, they became know as the “Citizen Potawatomi.”
By the early 1870’s, most of the Citizen Potawatomi had resettled in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, forming several communities near present-day Shawnee. In 1890, the Citizen Potawatomi participated, unwillingly, in the allotment process implemented through the Dawes Act of 1887. With this Act, the Citizen Potawatomi people were forced to accept individual allotments again. In the Land Run of 1891, the remainder of the Potawatomi reservation in Oklahoma was opened up to “white” settlement. It is estimated that 275,000 acres or half of the 900 square mile reservation was simply given away by the government to settlers.
Over time, many tribal members followed the pattern of other Oklahomans during the “dust bowl” era and migrated to California, as well as Washington, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon, where they formed congenial, loose-knit communities. Today, these communities are well established and have expanded to Kansas and Texas. In 1985, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation formally established eight Citizen Potawatomi Nation Regional Tribal Council centers to provide outreach to tribal members and to hold at least one regional council meeting with the tribal leadership annually.
The last quarter of the twentieth century was a period of great success for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In fact, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the largest of the eight federally recognized Potawatomi tribes and the ninth largest tribe in the United States. Under sound leadership and a tribal membership of over 26,000, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has experienced growth in administration, tribal enterprises, and its community outreach programs. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation owns one of Oklahoma’s largest grocery stores, First National Bank and Trust of Shawnee with three additional branches, FireLake Golf Course and Restaurant, Firelake Entertainment Center, Firelake Grand Casino, and the Cultural Heritage Center which houses the Nation's Museum, Archives, Library, Tribal Heritage Project, Long Room Event Center, Veterans' Wall of Honor, Firelake Gifts, and Tribal Rolls. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has a Health and Wellness Center, a Child Development facility with over 250 children at the complex everyday, and an Employment and Training Center.
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