People from all Potawatomi tribes often use the Potawatomi Language (Bodewadmimwen) Facebook group as a space to ask questions about translations, references and lyrics. They also use it to discover and relearn their ancestors’ Potawatomi names. Assimilation into Western culture caused many Nishnabé names to disappear and naming ceremonies have become less frequent. As Tribal members return to their Indigenous roots, more seek out these links to their family history.
Here are a few stories of Potawatomi citizens connecting with each other and filling in gaps using social media.
Growing up on the East Coast, Fae Myers’ connection to her Native heritage lacked the strength that comes with physical proximity. Toward the end of high school, she started to trace her DeGraff and Navarre family lineage back to Pierre Frenchette Navarre and Angelique Navarre, a French fur trader and his Potawatomi wife. Angelique’s Potawatomi name was Kishnawkwe (Afternoon Woman).
“Learning the Potawatomi names of my family and ancestors as well as other history about my family allowed me to feel a lot more grounded in my roots,” Myers said.
While naming skipped a few generations in her family, the last four women on her maternal side have names, including herself. Her great-grandmother, also named Kishnawkwe (Afternoon Woman); grandmother, Nadmagekwe (Helping Woman); her mother, Msko-gishek (Red Sky); and herself, Gises (Sun). She learned the names of a few other relatives through asking questions in the group.
“I got to see my great-gram a few times before she passed when I was 16, but between being 1,000 miles out and being a child when she was elderly, I never got a chance to truly know her,” Myers said.
“Learning their Potawatomi names not only placed them solidly in a Potawatomi context, but I guess what feels like a much more meaningful name. These are names that I feel describe their personhood, rather than a set of names picked at birth by chance. In a sense, it almost feels like they’re still here. Just the change in name makes me feel ever so slightly more connected to them.”
Victoria Tschohl began researching her father’s side of the family, wanting to know more about the ancestors she never knew. She is a registered descendant of the Hannahville Indian Community in Michigan. Tschohl considers the Potawatomi language a large part of the culture, and online language resources provided a way to learn out of state. Living in Idaho, the Facebook group put her in touch with other Potawatomi with the same goals.
“As a physically disabled and chronically ill Potawatomi far from any physical tribal resources and people, I’m extremely appreciative for the online community and the help I was provided,” she said. “It means the world to me to still have a way to communicate with fellow Potawatomi about our language and history.”
Looking through public records and talking to family, she found the Potawatomi names of several of her relatives, beginning at her great-grandmother and continuing back. Tschohl asked the group about translating a few of the names. She wanted a more accurate spelling in particular, as the ones she already knew came directly from the census: Pabahmesay, Wahsaygeshegoqua and Ogemahgoshegoqua.
“It was great to get the translations and also see the bit of variation in them. And I will definitely return to those names and their translations as I learn more about our language, so I can learn how they break down,” Tschohl said. “And I’ll have a personal connection with which to affiliate the language, which is the best way to learn languages.”
With the new translations, she learned her great-great-grandparents were known as Pabamse (He Walks Here and There) and Wasegishgokwe (First Rays of the Morning Sky Woman); and her great-grandmother’s name was Ogemagishgokwe (Chief Sky Woman).
“It was exhilarating to finally understand the Native names I had found in the Indian census records, but I haven’t gotten to do much beyond that since learning that information because life got busy,” Tschohl said. “It did make me feel more connected and inspired me to start reading some material from fellow Potawatomi authors, however.”
Sandi Bolt Dailey
Sandi Bolt Dailey grew up in Hominy, Oklahoma. As a Bruno, Vieux, DeLonais and Rhodd family descendant, Dailey knew she was Potawatomi. Throughout her life, she worked for the Osage Nation and attended Native events.
Dailey started researching her lineage in depth along with younger relatives throughout the last decade. Her aunt Ethel Bruno Shopwetuck named several family members, including Dailey’s mother, Florine Victoria DeLonais Bolt. Bolt knew Shopwetuck wrote their names down, and Bolt kept them and her other cultural knowledge to herself.
“I didn’t have this for my kids, and I would have been more involved in it when they were growing up. … Now, I’m trying to play catch-up,” Dailey said.
Vetta Bruno named Dailey Cae-a-no-Kwe, Warm Wind Blowing Woman, during a family naming ceremony. Relatives she met while attending events and reconnecting told Dailey her mother’s name was Black Snake Woman. They said her paternal great-grandmother’s, Mary Shopwetuck DeLonais, Potawatomi name was the same. However, Bolt never knew she was named after her grandmother.
“(My mom) was the oldest granddaughter, and I know that’s why they named her that. And it just made me start crying,” Dailey said. “It still makes me cry, and I know she didn’t know that.”
Dailey reached out on the Bodewadmimwen Facebook group to find a proper spelling of it in Potawatomi in August 2019. She learned “Mk edemnedok we (Black Snake Woman)” from Justin Neely, the group’s administrator. She believes the name fit her mother.
“My mom (Bolt) was quiet and kind and never talked bad about anybody,” Dailey said. Family members described Bolt’s grandmother, Mary Vieux Bruno, as kind and quiet as well. However, Dailey described other Bruno women as outspoken.
Dailey uncovered truths about her mother that Bolt did not know about herself. The ability to translate her mother’s name into Potawatomi warms Dailey’s heart.
“It just really makes me feel so much more connected,” she said.
Join the Potawatomi Language (Bodewadmimwen) Facebook group at cpn.news/langfb.