Mnokmet: Springtime Meditations on the Next Generation

Spring is associated with the eastern direction on the medicine wheel and represents infancy. As the snow melts and we welcome the warmth of springtime, this exhibit is dedicated to the importance of youth in Potawatomi culture.

Infants, like our elders, are closest to the spirit world—that world beyond, where our ancestors reside. With this in mind, we treat our young ones with love, adoration, positivity, and mindful guidance in all aspects of life.

The exhibit is organized in three sections: (1) Traditional Parenting which explores Potawatomi sensibilities related to raising children, (2) Boarding School Era which explains how U.S. assimilationist policy affected Potawatomi culture and methods of parenting, and (3) Revitalization which invites reflections on the benefits of raising our youth with traditional mindsets and Potawatomi cultural values.



Traditional Parenting

Love and Positivity

From a Potawatomi perspective, it is important to not only protect children from physical danger, but also keep children safe from negativity and mischievous spiritual entities. Many parents today are concerned about the safety of the baby products they buy. However, traditionally it is also important to keep children safe from negative thoughts in handmade baby items. Therefore, they are made with love, compassion, and positive thoughts.

Mbibis mkeznésen or baby moccasins would sometimes have a hole in the sole to discourage spirits from taking the baby. Similarly, there are some teachings which dissuade parents from allowing their infants in ceremonial or pow wow arenas. Otherwise, the spirits might interpret this as the infant being “offered back” to the Creator. Teachings vary, however, and we must respect differences, both between different religions and within the same ones.


A tkenagen or cradleboard in Bodwéwadmimwen (Potawatomi language) is a traditional baby carrier that mothers use to protect their infants while working or traveling about. In addition to being useful for mothers, the swaddle and wrapping helps baby feel secure and comforted. Penothésêk or babies enjoy being in cradleboards and some even sleep the night in them. Traditional Potawatomi cradleboards typically have floral designs.

Many Native communities believe that raising children in the cradleboard has many positive effects. Allowing infants to observe their environment upright in a cradleboard increases their awareness of the world and their relationships within it. Traditionally, mothers kept their babies in cradleboards until about 2 years of age. During this time, young children were not able to wander about or grab at a bunch of things. Therefore, they learned selfrestraint, how to listen and not overspeak, and would not get lost or endanger themselves.

Boarding School Era


Cultural assimilation of Native Americans or “Americanization” consisted of federal policies which aimed to erase traditional Native beliefs and practices. During this time (1790 - 1920) it was thought that it was best for Native peoples to become a part of the dominant American society.

Farming or other industrial training, converting to Christianity, and speaking only English replaced traditional tribal responsibilities, community leadership roles, Native religions, and multilingualism of many Indigenous languages by Potawatomi peoples.

Fear and Negativity

Western ideas about how to raise children replaced traditional Potawatomi ideas. For example, boarding schools instilled strict schedules, frequent physical punishment, and a high emphasis on discipline in all forms. These values replaced Potawatomi approaches of correction through storytelling, seasonal and ceremonial “schedules,” and an emphasis on community wellbeing in all forms.


During assimilationist policy in the U.S. Native American children who were sent to boarding school were severed from their families, communities, and cultures. The purpose of these schools was to “educate” Native children in European American values, capitalist skill sets, and the Christian religion. Many children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools thousands of miles from their families and tribal communities. To discourage them from speaking their Native languages children were often punished if they did not use English exclusively. Devastatingly, many children died while attending boarding school. These deaths resulted from abuse, neglect, European diseases, accidents from trying to escape, and for some, general heart ache.

Not all experiences of boarding school were so tragic, however. Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School located in Michigan was attended by many of our tribe’s ancestors. Some have found memories of their experiences at boarding school, because they felt they learned so much and made many friends.

What does traditional parenting mean to you?

• A Community coming in to help raise the children. A community can be anything; from just a large family to a whole town
• Being able to share our family & life histories, following our old customs of family, clan, & nation. Introducing our young ones to language, dance, prayer & ceremony. Letting them know that the boarding school system was a part of our history - Majel
• Cultural teaching for the future
• Having a caring community where you can find support
• Love – Claire, age 5
• Spending as much time as possible making memories!
• Learning to accept parenthood, truly asking & understanding that childhood is the same any time as what you went through
• Laying the foundation for the 7 sacred rights
• Clean and Sober. Healthy life style
• Love, Respect, Inclusiveness, Fair
• Listen to the children seriously
• Being together culturally and spiritually for our family
• Raising our children to know who we are as neshnabe
• Loving and Sharing our traditional knowledge as a way of life
• Raising our children together in a loving home with family that enjoys doing things together
• Having the knowledge of asking for help
• Being a good role model
• That my mom’s whole family raised me and my mom is going to help raise my children. It’s a salient culture (and epistemological point, it’s hard to get rid of that type of communal childrearing, even with assimilationist policies. It’s the land and the people who made me and who I belong to.
• The nuclear family does not jive with traditional parenting. And as such, traditional parenting is harder for capitalism to exploit, but makes the American Dream less achievable. Communal childrearing creates a whole person and community. Everyone makes you and you inform them. Cohesion.

-Voices of the Pokagon community
April 11th, 2018



What does being Potawatomi mean to you? Is that different from being Neshnabé? If you are an enrolled member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians or any other tribal nation, you are a citizen of a sovereign tribal nation. But what does sovereignty mean? Some use this term to mean political independence—like when America asserted its sovereignty against Great Britain in the American Revolution. But tribal sovereignty extends beyond politics. Our sovereignty and who we are as a nation lives in our traditional stories, our language, our landscape and environment, and in our kinship relationships to each other as a community. For these reasons, revitalizing our language and culture is central to maintaining our political sovereignty as well as our overall wellbeing.


The legacy of cultural assimilation is still affecting our community today as we try to undo the damage done. We accomplish this by reviving our languages that our ancestors were forced to forget in boarding schools. We also accomplish this by participating in our ceremonies that were punishable by imprisonment. Finally, we accomplish this by reintroducing traditional foods into our diets for our overall health. As we learn our Bodwéwadmimwen language, reconnect with our traditional placenames, and acquaint ourselves with our history, we are reclaiming our culture and our sense of selves in a contemporary way.

All of these processes can be considered “revitalization,” and can be most appreciated when viewed from a generational perspective. That means teaching our youth more Potawatomi language than we knew at their age and including them in more cultural doings than we were exposed to growing up, just to name a few. With this approach, it is believed that we can reclaim a healthy, beautiful life defined by Potawatomi sensibilities.

exhibit credits: Carla Collins, Kyle Malott, Sylvester Wesaw, Topash Family, Jodi Mix, Larry & Claudia Hedeen, Casey Church, Neshnabék Teachers and Leaders, Attendees of the Archives Open House
exhibit dates: April through June 2018
Language and Culture Building | 59291 Indian Lake Road Dowagiac, MI 49047
(269) 462-4325

Blaire Topash-Caldwell Archivist
(269) 782-4882

outside resources/further research: American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt ManyLanguage Program’s Bodwéwadmimwen appThe Right to Love: Grandparent Rights (for Indigenous Communities)