Wednesday, February 17, 2010
A fast Potawatomi history lesson.
The stories of old state that we were originally located on the eastern sea board and slowly migrated westward over the years - this migration was at times voluntary while at other times very much against our will. Nonetheless, we were an independent group and lived off the bountiful natural resources of the Great Lakes. What we couldn't catch in the lakes or hunt in the forests, we acquired through trade with other tribes and later with the non-Indians. For the longest time we enjoyed life free from outside influences and prospered.
After the first contact with non-Indians in 1641, land became a central issue that intensified with the expansion of the 13 colonies or "13 Fires." As this expansion started to happen the Potawatomi lost some of their autonomy and freedoms. Non-Indians wanted the land for mines, timber and the growing number of towns, cities and ports. During this time of advancing settlement, the Potawatomi people held no real concept of land ownership. Their beliefs taught them that land belonged to all living things alike. However, the U.S. Government, in its first treaties with the Indians, established boundaries for tribal land. In the numerous treaties that followed, known as "cession treaties," the Potawatomi agreed to sell land to the U.S. Government. Those early concessions soon led to more drastic policies.
The 1830 Removal Act was a governing policy of the United States government. The policy revolved around a dream that the Indian "problem" could be eliminated forever by persuading the eastern Indians to exchange their lands for territory west of the Mississippi. Each band has their own story to tell about the removal and those stories are unique to them and are best told by them. As for the Prairie Band, we made temporary stops in Missouri's Platte Country in the mid-1830’s and the Council Bluffs area of Iowa in the 1840’s. The tribe controlled up to five million acres at both locations. After 1846 the tribe moved to present-day Kansas. Although the area lacked the beauty of the Great Lakes, the circumstances of removal left the tribal people little choice. At that time, the reservation was thirty square miles which included part of present-day Topeka. It is our contention that the land we lost during this period contributed to the greatness of this country. In the following years, land holdings dwindled further and life toughened for the Prairie Band. At times it seemed hopeless, but we persevered.
For the first part of the 20th century the Potawatomi subsisted on farming, hunting and trapping, wage labor, and leasing of their lands. The band suffered greatly during the Great Depression and accompanying drought during the 1930’s. Things didn’t get any better after the wars came along. Many tribal members went and fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. They went to Korea, Vietnam and fought in modern day battles in the Middle East. Some died, some were wounded and some suffered for many years after, but they have achieved a place of honor in our society. We are free today because of what those veterans have done for us. Again, it was a difficult time but members persevered and survived.
The tribes in the ensuing years struggled living with abject poverty and racism however, because of strong leaders, were able to survive something close to termination. It took time to regroup as a tribal unit. Government programs came and they helped, but never were the true answer. The introduction of gaming activities has initiated an improvement in social, educational and cultural leadership programs which has led to improvement in the quality of life among our people.