Ggëkéndasmen means "We are learning." This blog is dedicated to sharing the traditions we are bringing back so we can learn from the past and be inspired for the future.
Lacrosse: a game with a purpose
Natives invented lacrosse centuries ago, a game we and others now play as a competitive sport and enjoyable pastime. Lacrosse was more a peacekeeping tool and spiritual experience than the fun game it is today.
A game of lacrosse was the first option for peace when a dispute arose. If this didn't settle the score, then the opponents could find other ways to settle the dispute. This process was used within tribal villages, as well as outside, between two separate villages.
Lacrosse was strictly a men's sport. Women were not permitted to even touch the men's lacrosse sticks because of the powerful male energy flowing within the sticks. Dividing men and women in this sport helped keep balance.
Women had a game of their own, called stick ball. They played separately from the men, with a set of rules all their own.
Contemporary lacrosse with modern equipment is generally played for recreation, and men and women in the community play together.
Pick up your lacrosse stick next weekend (Saturday, May 30) for the All Tribes Lacrosse Tournament. Come to play or cheer on community members. No dispute settling, just lots of fun!
A breeze from a briskly walking passerby sends them flapping, the scraps of material sewn together, hanging proudly from a cedar branch in the hall. Quilts line the walls of our government buildings, displaying the talent and long hours of dedicated work by citizens.
Quilts are an extension of blankets, offering comfort and support to anyone wrapped in their warmth. A blanket wrapped around one's shoulders is a symbol of someone wrapping his arms around you in a time of need. Blankets are given as gifts, like a Pendleton, to represent safety and unity.
We give blankets to babies and graduates so they might feel the comfort of their community as the blanket is wrapped around them. We also drape one blanket around the shoulders of a newly wedded couple which symbolizes their union.
One remarkable quilt by a Native man was made from tobacco ties he'd received. Such memories and kindness sewn together to form this quilt, one might consider keeping the next tobacco tie for a project such as this.
Join the community on Saturday, May 2 for To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions to learn more.
Bone needle and basswood fiber cordage
Needles and thread have long been the foundation of sewing, but the metal needles and cotton thread used to hold our clothes together did not weave through the art and clothing of our Potawatomi ancestors.
They had bones and trees to do that.
photo by John McLinden
Not human bone, but animal bone, was carefully carved and shaped into needles. They shaped large bones into tools for cleaning hides, and the small were used for sewing cattail mats, bags, and clothing.
Paired with these bone needles was basswood fiber. This fiber was pulled from the inner bark of bass trees. Using a special technique, they would roll it into a cord. This was the predominately used material, equivalent to rope.
The cordage was also used to weave bags, a relatively lost art that is believed to be making a comeback.
Bone needles and basswood fiber cordage were necessary tools in the Potawatomi way of life, utilitarian but not symbolic. Learn this method yourself, and better understand the life of our ancestors.
Stitched in Culture
Moccasins were once the staple footwear of Native Americans, adorning the feet of warriors, mothers, and children alike.
We still wear moccasins, often making them ourselves. Today we can also buy them in stores, giving our feet a padded taste of what the walking of our ancestors was like.
Each tribe had their own distinct way of making moccasins. In fact, you could once know exactly which tribe a person was from simply by looking at their feet.
The two types of Potawatomi moccasins are the stitched and the pucker toe. The stitched brings the material together in a circle on the top. The pucker toe (shown above) is sewn up the middle and has flaps on either side. It gets its name from the leather that puckers in the front, caused by its stitching.
On the back of every moccasin is a flap that looks like a hoof to pay homage to the deer sacrificed to make the shoe.
Every Native American should have two pairs of moccasins. The first is everyday moccasins, which are plain cloth, and the second is ceremonial moccasins, which have beading and other elaborate designs for special occasions.
The designs and coloring are specific to each person. They depict one's clan, tribe, and birth order. Birth order is shown using colors. Odd descendants (first born, third, fifth, etc.) use red in their designs, and even born (second, fourth, etc.) use blue.
Displaying birth order was vital to village life. They used birth order to split into groups for games within the village and also for wars with outsiders. This way, no entire family or generation was wiped out in a battle.
Moccasins play a role in one's physical and spiritual journeys. Natives should have an additional pair of moccasins to wear in the afterlife.
Traditionally, babies had holes in their moccasins (before they could walk), and there are two conflicting beliefs on why they did. One is that holey moccasins will keep a baby from death because they do not have proper shoes for the afterlife, and the other is that it allows the baby to travel through the hole and into the spirit world.
In the pow wow world, moccasins are designed by personal taste, but in the ceremonial world, every stitch, bead, and color is intertwined with our culture.
Wealth in Giving
You're only as wealthy as the things that you have to give.
It's a motto that shapes our view of economy and community.
Dominant culture tells us to hold onto our possessions and continue to gather as much as we can. Native American culture says the more you give, the wealthier you are.
In village days, the people took care of each other. No one could survive alone, so goods were shared among the people.
Giving was not only a necessity to survive, but it was also a validation of friendship or an alliance.
Native American communities gave generously to visitors and guests. This showed gratitude for their presence and helped maintain those relationships into the future. It helped foster cooperation among the groups of people.
We still practice gift-giving, most often in the form of giveaways. We use them at pow wows and other events to thank those who come and that we are glad they enjoyed the event.
Gift-giving is a constant flow. When you give, someone else will give to you, and it might just be at the time you need it most.
The chill warned us it was coming, and on Sunday it will officially take over for the next three months: winter.
With this treacherous season comes the cold and much snow. In the days of living in villages, winter broke the people apart into smaller villages and tested their ability to survive.
These smaller groups worked to properly allocate their resources until April, when spring brought all the people back together.
Snow covers the earth during winter, providing a warm blanket for Mother Earth and a safe covering for us to speak about her and Nana bozo, the representation of the first man.
The winter still tests our ability to survive. During winter, the bear, turtle, and thunder clans are asleep like Mother Earth and cannot help us. Our father the sun sleeps with them, so we children are without parents.
For this reason, we need our community. We had to band together to survive, and the same is true today. We need each other's wisdom and kindness and friendship all year 'round, and especially in this cold.
Show love this winter, and be a friend's spiritual warm blanket.
Escape to Dance
Smoke lifting from the ceremonial pipe, side-stepping clockwise around a circle of drums, voices singing loudly to the pounding music—these are the visions of a round dance.
The dance started with the Cree people in the Northern plains of Canada, and the rhythm has since spread across the west and into the east.
The gathering began with a Cree man who lost his girlfriend and was mourning greatly. She told him to dance to a love song where she would join him.
From this man's sorrow rose a tradition soon adopted by tribes across North America, with its ever changing meaning from tribe to tribe.
We Potawatomi use round dances as opportunities to be together as a community, but we maintain the spiritual importance by acknowledging those who have passed on.
We host our round dances in the bitterness of winter, when the cold has been keeping us inside. It's a time to escape our homes and join together as one people in dancing, laughter, and song.
Our people didn't always need times like this. Ages ago, we joined in celebrations like this frequently, with the entire tribe living as one people, one village. Moving into this speedy and individualistic modern age, we don't tend to burst into dancing—at least not with anyone nearby.
Making time for anything takes extra effort, especially during this busy holiday season. Try to dedicate some time this month to being with your community, and if you hear drums, start dancing.
Preparing and Feasting
Families and friends across the country will be celebrating this week. They’ll gather together and share in a meal they worked all day to prepare. Our tribe was doing something similar many years ago, before the Europeans ate their first Thanksgiving feast.
After a summer of caring for crops and a fall of harvesting, our people celebrated their hard work and prepared for the winter ahead.
The Potawatomi held many feasts, eating the labors of their summer. They also dried out food from the harvest and stored it for winter, accumulating large stockpiles before the land froze over.
The feasts were held for more than just eating. They were social gatherings in which everyone from the village was welcome. For some, the gatherings were the last moments they would see one another until spring.
The villages broke up for winter so they could more easily manage their accumulated resources, so they said their goodbyes until the blanket of snow lifted.
This week, give thanks to the creator for the food on your table and the friends and family around it, and hopefully you’ll get to see them all again before spring.
Leadership has always upheld communities. In one form or another, groups of people have consistently looked to their leaders for guidance and instruction, and the Pokagon Band is no exception.
Before the Europeans immigrated to America and eventually formed a democracy, Native Americans lived in villages, and each village or group of people had its own set of leaders.
Much like today, these leaders rose up and made their intentions to lead the people known, and in return the people “voted” them in or later out, but not in the way we do today.
These men and women did not inscribe their names on a ballot and use their quick wit to win over the people—they used actions.
These aspiring leaders showed the people what they could do and went about ways to earn their fellow villagers’ respect. Then the people voted—by either following or not.
The leaders’ influence was only as powerful as their effect upon the people. If their leadership was no longer wanted, their followers left for another village and sought new leadership.
This might sound like quite the unstable environment, but it actually caused an opposite reaction: Balance.
Knowing their followers could leave at any time prevented the leaders from trying to make decisions they shouldn’t, especially by themselves.
Decisions were not placed in the hands of individual leaders; rather, groups of leaders came together, all equal, to assess a situation and agree upon its outcome.
Heads of clans, warrior and dance societies, and other groups made decisions at the village level.
The current Tribal Council is set up in a similar way, with a large body of leaders making decisions as a group.
The tribal government is not an exact replica of the leadership structure that was, but in this modern and changing day, the Band steadily looks back to step forward.
The Native Justice Initiative is another example of the past influencing the present that similarly promotes equality among the people.
Leaders are no greater than anyone else, but they hold a greater responsibility than anyone else.
So today, be a leader others want to follow, and help this community achieve greatness.