Bozho n’Nikanek! – Greeting my friends!
The 2013 Gathering of the Potawatomi Nations is a celebration of language, culture, tradition, family, reconnecting with tribal members, food, and much more. It is a gathering to share experiences, knowledge, exchange of ideas, and make new friends and connections
This year’s annual gathering was hosted by the proud and progressive Pokegnek Bodewadmik – Pokagon Band of Potawatomi in Dowagiac, Michigan. The Pokagon Band became federally reaffirmed (federally recognized) in 1994.
This was my first gathering. I am grateful to Rande Payne, Citizen Potawatomi Nation District 6 Legislator, who gifted me an opportunity to attend this year’s gathering. Igwien Rande.
Michigan this time of year is beautiful with blue skies, clean air, pretty lakes, and rivers.
Likewise, the Pokagon properties are green and lush, shaded by tall trees, and surrounded by picturesque fields of corn and soy beans. Fireflies (lightning bugs) play in the evenings. Michigan is beautiful country this time of year.
Two primary takeaways stand out: (1) relationships, and (2) an overall sense of acceptance, respect and unity.
Rande and I attended the Potawatomi language conference held at Dowagiac Middle School.
Among other things, the language conference provided opportunity to reconnect with tribal members: Sam Navarre, Randy Schlachtun and Justin Neely to name a few. Those three men have influenced and inspired me in a good way to be a more knowledgable and, I think better, Potawatomi man. They are assets to CPN and have many friends throughout Potawatomi country.
Similarly, the language conference provided opportunity to make additional friends.
One such new friend is Jimmy, a member of the Pokagon Band.
One afternoon Jimmy was giving me a one-on-one language lesson. At one point I asked “why” something was said a certain way in Potawatomi. Jimmy responded with a simple teaching an Elder taught him. That is do not always ask your teacher or Elder “why.” Do not put your teacher on the spot. Our language is ancient. The teacher may not know why. The teacher was gracious to answer my question. Leave it at that. Be thankful. That is good medicine for all Potawatomi.
As we learn our language, we learn about our culture as well.
On Wednesday, the language conference moved to one of the Pokagon Band’s serene properties – a place called Gage Lake.
I met Andy Jackson, “cultural specialist “of the Pokagon Band. Andy intimated to me that the Elders gave Gage Lake a sacred Indian name. So sacred it cannot be written.
All weekend Andy shared with Rande and me all she knew about whatever cultural questions we asked.
Later in the weekend, Andy gifted Rande and me with tobacco seeds and another special gift. The seeds will start us growing our own tobacco. The gift we use in special prayer situations. Migwetch Andy.
Andy introduced me to Wally “the King” fire starter. Wally is from the Hannahville Indian Community, Band of Potawatomi. Andy explained that Wally has been starting and tending gathering fires for 19 years. He used to start the fire and tend it the four days and three nights of gathering, never leaving the fire. However, these days, Wally is more wise than most. The Pokagon band provided him a comfortable room to rest during the nights. Protégés now tend the fire overnight until Wally returns.
On Wednesday, the language conference culminated with a traditional feast at the Pokagon’s Rogers Lake gathering grounds. The feast entrees and dishes were prepared in Pokagon Band members’ homes. We enjoyed delicious venison, sweet meat, wild rice, fish, fry-bread, blueberry pie, strawberries, and other delicious foods.
There, I met Bob Moody and his beautiful and gracious wife, Beth Earl-Jones Moody. Bob is Vice Chairperson of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and once served as tribal chairperson of the band.
This meeting of Bob was most influential. Over the next few days, Bob, Beth and I crossed paths many times. As our meetings numbered, they began to feel more like reunions to me. Bob and I talked about many things and became friends. Later, I learned how stunningly beautiful the couple are in their pow wow dance regalia. We have continued our relationship since the gathering.
Thursday morning, I hooked up with the CPN camp. CPN staff pulled two large camping trailers up from Shawnee. CPN supplied us with ample clean, cold water, pop, snacks and a shady, comfortable environment to relax and enjoy time with tribal citizens and friends.
Friday afternoon Chairman Barrett and Vice Chairperson Capps prepared corn that the Chairman picked-up in Arkansas. The chairman melted butter in large bowls. We rolled our corn in butter, salted it up, and ate till our hearts content. Migwetch!
Friday evening was pow wow! Pow wow is one of my favorite traditional activities. Great-great grandmother Mary Ann (Anderson) Bourbonnais wrote in her journal she loved to dance every evening. Maybe I get my desire to dance from her. But this evening I was blessed to dance on the land Creator originally gave Potawatomi. I dance to honor my ancestors, to represent Nishnabek, and for those yet to come.
Saturday morning I attended hand drum making class. Jason and his grandfather from the Pokagon Band led the class and provided all the materials. They also taught us that the drum is not a “toy.” It is to be treated like grandmother.
Saturday afternoon Dr. Kelli Mosteller, Jason Greenwalt and I enjoyed traditional feast! The Prairie Band supplied tasty Buffalo and wild rice. There was fish, chicken, sweet meat, fry-bread, blueberry turnover, strawberries, and other tasty treats to eat. Elders eat first!
After feast was pow wow time! I danced until I was out of breath. Then I danced some more. I did not want the good times to end.
In closing, God has blessed our Potawatomi nations with visionary and innovative leaders who love their people. They are governing in a good way. Our leaders are leading our nations into phenomenal economic prosperity and now more commonly culturally. We are growing in respect of our traditions, our language, returning to our fires, our drums, and practices. Potawatomi are returning to ways that make us a united and influential people of success and celebration. Indeed, they are giving us reason to be proud to be Potawatomi.
For 2014, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, Gun Lake Tribe (federally recognized 1998) will host the gathering. The nation is near Grand Rapids, MI. Hope to see you there.
I am excited about the future of Bodewadmik Nishnabek, and so should you!
Bama mine ngoji