"The Potawatomi" (1987) is one of the books in the series "Indians of North America" issued by the Chelsea House Publishers. The 63 titles run from "The Abenaki" to "The Zuni," and are aimed at a Young Adult (YA) audience, but may be read with interest by any age group. Each of the books begins with an introduction, "Indians of North America: Conflict and Survival" by the General Editor, Frank W. Porter III which can be summarized by a quotation by John Steinbeck:
"The Indians survived our open intention of wiping them out, and since the tide turned they have even weathered our good intentions toward them, which can be much more deadly."
A Potawatomi Chief ('Wkama') lived in the Michigan village, where I went to school, and his anthropologist-wife put together a museum of Indian artifacts in a little room above our library. It was Mrs. Ettawageshik ('Sun on Both Horizons') who introduced me to anthropology, and the original settlers of Michigan.
This book's first chapter relates the Potawatomi (Neshnabek--'the People') Creation story, which involves a large body of water and Chief Muskrat--an appropriate beginning for our Great Lakes State!
The Potawatomi, originally nomadic hunter-gatherers, migrated into the lower half of Michigan around A.D. 1500, and learned agriculture from their new neighbors, the Sac, Fox, and Kickapoo. In turn, they taught them how to construct birch bark canoes.
"About 1600 the Neshnabek [Potawatomi] began hearing strange rumors from people who had traveled to the east. These secondhand stories told of the arrival of unknown creatures who in some ways looked like humans, but dressed peculiarly, smelled bad, and--most surprising of all--had thick hair on their cheeks." Jean Nicolet, the first Hairy Face to meet the Neshnabek in 1634, called them the 'Pouutouatami' or 'Firemakers,' after a misunderstanding with his Huron guide.
The Potawatomi were driven to the Western Great Lakes by New York Iroquois tribes, who were intent on controlling the fur trade. However, the People took their stand near what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin and defeated the Five Nations warriors, even though the Iroquois had acquired firearms from the Dutch and English. There they lived and prospered for over a century, after allying themselves with the French. "Eventually, the Potawatomi's territory stretched from what is now Ohio west to the Mississippi River and south to the valleys of the Wabash and Illinois rivers."
By 1763, after Great Britain had defeated France in the French and Indian War, the Potawatomi had already begun their long decline. After Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, it is surprising that any of the Potawatomi were able to remain west of the Mississippi River.
This history ends in modern times after a discussion of the Dream Dance, a visionary religion founded by Wananikwe (Stranger Woman) in the late 19th Century. The author (an anthropologist) has written a truly interesting, sometimes poignant history of this Great Lakes tribe.