As daylight decreases, preparing for the long, harsh winter ahead has always been an important part of Potawatomi culture and lifeways during dgwaget (fall), which officially began Sept. 22 and lasts until Dec. 21.
“Dgwaget — fall — is literally talking about a shortening, particularly of time. The hours of daylight start to disappear,” said Justin Neely, CPN Department of Language director.
It served as an integral period to gather, hunt, fish and preserve food for the long, cold season to come.
“Women did a lot of cultivating and harvesting the garden near the village,” said Dr. Kelli Mosteller, CPN Cultural Heritage Center director. “It was something they could do in conjunction with tending to the children and tending to the village.”
Men traditionally spent dgwaget collecting proteins and meat to smoke or dry and provide sustenance.
“They had to have that reserve of meats and things that had been dried out not just for survival but as a fallback for if you couldn’t find a fresh kill for that day,” Mosteller said.
Children followed their parents and community members, assisting wherever possible.
“They all had to survive together as a community, and everybody plays a role,” she said. “There was, from a very early age, an understanding that you had to pitch in and help.”
In late summer into early fall, Potawatomi began harvesting wild rice, which is still a tradition practiced today.
“Full of nutrients, it is called menomen, the good seed or berry,” Neely said.
The Seven Fires oral tradition explains that a prophet came to the Nishnabe, encouraging them to move westward, following the megis shell until they reached the place where food grew on water. Once arriving to the Great Lakes, the Nishnabe found wild rice growing, and they knew that they had reached the land Creator promised.
Winters in the Great Lakes are much longer than those in Oklahoma and other states, but before climate change, it began even earlier, making drying and storing food even more important.
“Three hundred years ago, it was likely mid-October that you started to get really chilly weather and snowfalls,” Mosteller said.
While dgwaget served as a time to prepare, it was also one of the last chances to commune with one another through feasts, pegnegewen (stick ball), mamkeznéwen (moccasin game) and more.
“Everybody kind of understood that they were about to settle in for a really long stretch of isolation, so it’s sort of the last hurrah, if you will,” Mosteller said.
Today, the traditions continue with events and holidays, like Thanksgiving.
“That concept of having a big feast with the harvest, that mentality kind of runs through not just as food and feasting but also celebrating, visiting and getting your socialization before you have to pack up and live in your lodge with your immediate family members for the next four to five months,” she said.
Recreating Potawatomi dgwaget traditions is as easy as sharing a meal, making moccasins or other traditional crafts or even simply catching up through virtual methods like Zoom or Skype.
“The concept of getting together and socializing and being grateful for the bounty and gifts which you’ve been able to have over this past year is something that’s universal, and it doesn’t have to end just because COVID happened,” Mosteller said. “That’s a gift that our ancestors passed down to us is the ability to understand our blessings and the gifts Creator has given us to make it through another year.”
To learn more about dgwaget, tour the Cultural Heritage Center’s gallery Gete Neshnabek Zhechgéwen or visit potawatomiheritage.com.