Every year during the Family Reunion Festival, a few Citizen Potawatomi Nation employees set up cameras and invite all ages of Honored Family descendants to volunteer information about their lineage on video. This year’s Honored Families are Anderson, Beaubien, Bertrand, Bourbonnais, Ogee, Pettifer, Toupin, Wano and Yott.

This process documents Potawatomi people’s stories, expands Tribal archives, and preserves culture and history. Participants sign a standard release form authorizing Tribal Heritage Productions’ Leslie Deer and Shawn Barfield to record their interviews.

Deer and Barfield attempt to make the experience as enjoyable as conversing with a friend. They will ask about simple facts including family members’ names, birthdays and marriages. Interviewees often bring notes as reminders. Participants are also encouraged to bring family photos, hand-drawn family trees, letters, government documents and certificates from religious and cultural milestones to talk about.

“It’s pretty basic,” Deer said. “They’re not going to be surprised by any random questions or anything.”

People often share narratives passed down from their ancestors and anecdotes about notable Potawatomi family members. Deer likes hearing compelling facts, life philosophies and words of advice too. Deer and Barfield welcome Tribal members who do not know much about their heritage to share their life stories and information — their memories — seeing it as important to the Nation’s annals also.

“Sometimes people also come in and say, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about anybody in my history,’ and that’s okay,” she said. “Fifty or 75 years from now, we are going to be the history.”

Tribal archives stores the videos as part of its collection accessible by CPN members. After the crew organizes the footage, Honored Family members can request a copy of their raw interviews through Tribal archives at no cost.

The details

The crew sets up two locations inside the Cultural Heritage Center during Festival — the main studio and the administrative hallway conference room. The schedule included with
this story indicates each Honored Family’s interview location and time slot on June 30.

Deer and Barfield welcome both individuals and groups. Lines often form outside the studios, and people must wait their turn. Tapings typically last between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on group size. The spaces accommodate five or six people at most. The crew clips lapel mics on individuals and each member of small groups. Larger groups utilize hand-held mics.

“It’s pretty painless. They honestly are having a conversation with us — the person running the camera — and that’s about all it is,” she said. “A lot of times, people forget that the camera is there. They don’t have to look into the camera or talk to the camera.”

Deer began recording family stories during Festival a decade ago, and she still looks forward to it every summer.

“There are some really, really amazing stories. There are some Potawatomi people that have achieved phenomenal things in their lifetime,” she said. “You never know when someone walks in and sits down and puts that microphone on what they’re going to share with you — it’s fascinating.”

Find more information and complete Festival schedules on potawatomi.org.