Chesterton Tribune

Story of Pokagon Potawatomi heard at Historical Society

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Jason Wesaw knew from a very young age that he wanted to know more about his heritage. His father is Potawatomi and his mother English and French. From the time he got his driver’s license he has devoted his life to the study and preservation of his people’s history and culture.

He is the Cultural Associate for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians, he spoke to the Duneland Historical Society Thursday, April 21 at the Library Service Center. His talk followed the society’s spring dinner catered by Popolano’s Restaurant.

Potawatomi Indians lived in southern Michigan, parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio. Names of chiefs like Wesaw, Wolf and Topinabee were given to the villages.

Today the Potawatomi Nation consists of eight federally recognized bands. The Pokagon Band has its main office in Dowagiac, Michigan and a satellite office in South Bend, Indiana. The band lost its recognition as a nation during the depression and its status with the federal government was finally reaffirmed in 1994. Wesaw described it as a “nation within a nation”. The federal government supercedes the Pokagon Band in criminal matters.

Within the Pokagon Band there is a tribal council with a tribal chairman. There are courts, police, medical services including traditional medicine, mental health services, AA, housing and schools. Education aimed at preserving the native language is emphasized as a way to keep the culture alive.

2,900 members are enrolled in the Pokagon Band. The Potawatomi Nation which is spread from Oklahoma to Canada has 50,000 members. Potawatomi means “Keepers of the Fire.” When native Americans were removed from the Great Lakes area, the group led by Pokagon (he was baptised as Leopold Pokagon) had established communities and many had converted to the Catholic faith. They were given special status as “Catholic Potawatomi” and given the right to remain within the traditional boundaries of their homeland.

He showed crafts, books and artifacts from the Potawatomi culture. Before the program he visited the Westchester Township Historical Museum and told the society that the museum has a good collection of artifacts.

The Duneland Historical Society will meet at 7:30, May 19, 2005, at the Library Service Center. Cynthis Ogorek will speak about her book “Along the Calumet River.”

Plans are underway for a bus tour of local historical sites in June.


Posted 4/25/2005