Bodéwadmi Gdawmen [ the tie that binds us all ]
This statement references the connection we all have to each other regardless of time in between generations or distance between citizens.
We are Potawatomi
In village days, the Pokagon Potawatomi were connected linguistically, spiritually, and geographically. The ensuing decades shifted those connections, stressing them, sometimes severing them. Today the tribal government is working to rebuild those ties. Using contemporary and cultural means, Pokagon people are reconnecting. 2018 saw the second tribal census, which asked Pokagon citizens to list their needs and priorities. This was the year the Band invoked its educational sovereignty by launching its own preschool, Zagbëgon. In 2018 our two language apprentices took on their own apprentices, doubling the efforts to reconnect to Bodwéwadmimwen and the number of fluent speakers. This year we launched Wiwkwébthëgen, the online archives collecting oral histories, language information, art, photos and items of culture and heritage.Employing both tradition and technology, we are connecting with community near and far, from past and present. Whether connection to the past or connection across distances, the ties that unite our people are becoming stronger.
Gda Nadmadmen [ we should help each other ]
Wnakwnawan wa zhëwébêk [ they are planning for what will happen ]
Jackie Winchester-Jones keeps busy. When she’s not in school, she’s a dance instructor and a participant in the Miss Dowagiac Pageant. Being dually-enrolled in both Dowagiac-Union High School and Southwestern Michigan College gives her time to get it all done. The Dual Enrollment Program is offered through the Pokagon Department of Education.
“It’s a very big help for students like me who are still in high school,” the senior says.
She attends high school in the morning and business marketing and art appreciation classes in the afternoons at SMC. And Fridays she has no classes.
“The college program gives me a lot of time to do my homework and study, and I’m saving future tuition money by getting these classes out of the way.”
Winchester-Jones hopes to study business management at either Ball State or Grand Valley State with the aim of becoming a professional sports agent, something she’s already got a head start on with her dual enrollment.
Mnesthegéwen [ to put things in order]
When the Pokagon Band resolved in May to exercise its educational sovereignty and create its own preschool, the clock began ticking to get the Zagbëgon building in shape and ready for kids on the academy’s first day of school September 4.
The Facilities Department was on the job, helping ensure Zagbëgon was up to Pokagon building codes and licensing standards for child care facilities. The team deep cleaned the entire place, stripping and waxing floors, shampooing carpets, and painting walls on a tight deadline before new furniture was moved in. They resurfaced and repainted the parking lot, creating a bus lane for pick up and drop off.
One of their tasks was vital to the prioritization of culture in the academy curriculum: they helped the Zagbëgon team construct the lodge building, where the students begin and end each week with a fire and prayers.
“The Facilities Department was integral in the opening of Zagbëgon,” said Liz Rinehart, program manager. “They provided support, shouldered the brunt of this work load, and freed me up to concentrate on curriculum and hiring teachers to get ready for students.”
Nado’wen [ healing ]
Sally Clausen fell in love with Indiana on a visit to see an old friend. She packed up her California home and created a new one here, leaving behind broken relationships with her children and grandchildren. Sally was looking for happiness in her new community, but she never expected to completely transform her life and her family members' lives after one simple visit to Pokagon Health Services (PHS).
“They put me on with Michelle,” Sally explained, talking about Michelle Cockey, medical provider at the PHS Clinic. “Godsend, that girl is. She seemed open and thorough. I remember feeling safe.”
Sally came to this visit with her boyfriend at the time, who soon after, broke her arm in a violent outburst. PHS helped get Sally into see a surgeon, while also setting her up with a counselor in Behavioral Health.
Jennifer Ervin coached Sally through contacting her family, sharing with them everything that had happened, and rebuilding those relationships.
“The healing can't start until you take responsibility," Sally said. “That phone call to my kids—that helped me honestly take the responsibility that I hadn't taken. I had done some changing, but there was much more changing I needed to do."
Sally’s granddaughter is now living with her; Sally speaks with her children regularly and spends Christmas in California with them every year.
PHS has since guided Sally through a bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment, sleep apnea, and precancerous skin spots.
Giwé [ he/she goes home ]
Before he moved to Dowagiac Édawat in June into one of the town homes, Jared Wesaw was living in a studio in Portage while taking classes at Western Michigan University.
“It never felt like home. I could always hear traffic from 1-94,” he said. “I didn’t know what home felt like. I’ve wanted to move closer to Dowagiac, into a bigger place.”
He was almost ready to sign another year’s lease on the studio when he got the call from the Pokagon Department of Housing that a spot had opened in the village.
“That was an amazing feeling,” he remembers. “It’s really close to my aunt, who raised me. She lives in a town home right by mine. It is closer to everyone I know.”
Wesaw says the Housing team made the process easy, and that the cost helps him focus on writing; he’s working on a novel and a career in writing.
“It’s a lot quieter here. My living room now is as big as my studio was. It feels a lot more like home.”
Ė daygo [ where we live ]
Madeline White was living with her parents in Sister Lakes when she reached out to the Pokagon Band Housing Department for help to purchase her ownhome. She was open to any type of assistance, and staff there told her she met the requirements for the Down Payment Assistance Program.
The program provided the 20 percent down payment Madeline needed to purchase her very own home, five minutes from work, still near her family, and close to the tribe’s Dowagiac campus where Madeline accesses health and other services.
“They all were really helpful and on top of it,” Madeline said of the Housing staff.
Kim Cushway, housing occupancy specialist at the Housing Department, worked with Madeline to determine how Housing could help her reach her goals. Kim says Madeline thought she was too young at just 21 and didn’t have a good enough credit score to purchase a home, but Kim told her she actually could buy her own house.
“After looking at her credit score and looking at her income, we realized that her best option would be to purchase a house rather than renting, that it would be more affordable,” Kim said.
Kim often guides citizens through the process of deciding what type of housing is best for their individual situations, and she’s impressed by the number of tribal youth purchasing homes in the area, further planting themselves in the Pokagon community.
Wa ndëwéndëmwat [ what the people want ]
“Our tribal census is important to me because it tells our government how to best serve our people now and in the future. It tells us how we are doing serving our people, and at the same time, sets the framework for future programs, services, developments, and investments that will sustain us as a people and as a community.”
-J. Scott Winchester, Pokagon citizen and project manager/tribal liaison for Seven Generations Architecture & Engineering, LLC
Ė yawygo [ who we are ]
Last year, Carla bought a skirt so she could participate in the annual Water Walk, but something seemed off, and she felt incomplete.
This feeling stuck with her, so when the next iteration of the Regalia Class began, Carla joined and completed a camp dress, ribbon skirts, pucker toe moccasins, applique skirts, birch bark medallion, red tail hawk feather fan and hairpiece, and likely more.
Carla didn’t grow up with this culture, didn’t talk about it or experience it, so the first few classes, she sat paralyzed, too unsure to cut material or sew an applique. Two months later, this changed, and Carla was completing projects at home.
“I don’t want to die not ever knowing who I am. And that’s why I’m doing this.”
Carla is spending her retirement learning her culture and unexpectedly finding herself through the classes she’s attended from the Language & Culture Department and relationships she’s developed there.
Carla danced in her camp dress at the Grand Entry of the 2018 Oshke-Kno-Kewéwen Traditional Pow Wow, and she finally felt complete.
“Anything that’s offered—I’m there.” Carla said. “I’ve just thrown myself into it. I decided that’s it. Enough of wanting to do it. The only thing worse than not doing it for 56 years is not doing it for 56 years—and another day.”
Mnosthegéwen [ good doings that benefit others ]
In village days, the community cared for its own. families, clans, villages worked together to provide for all.
Though it may look different tha how it used to, the Pokagon Band still does this today. From celebrating with gatherings and meals to working to make maple sugar, some of the old ways are returning.
Daniel Dick and his family live in Lawrence, Michigan and own J&B Dick Orchards, a tree fruit and vegetable farm. Nuisance deer do a lot of damage to their farm, and if allowed to multiply, chronic wasting disease could become a problem for the herd. So, Daniel, a student at Michigan State, has a license that allows him to hunt deer out of season with the stipulation that the meat must be used for food.
Daniel is a good shot. He’s been doing this for eight years. Sometimes he donates the meat to aunts and grandparents. This year he harvested two deer and provided 200 pounds of meat from the deer to the elders food program and the emergency food program.
“It’s nice to see people eating deer meat I’ve harvested,” he said.