The Potawatomi (also spelled Pottawatomie and Pottawatomi, among many variations) are a Native American people of the upper Mississippi River region. They traditionally speak the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquian family. In the Potawatomi language, they generally call themselves Bodéwadmi, a name that means "keepers of the fire" and that was applied to them by their Anishinaabe cousins. They originally called themselves Neshnabé, a cognate of the word Anishinaabe.
The Potawatomi were part of a long term alliance with the Ojibwe and Ottawa, called the Council of Three Fires. In the Council of Three Fires, Potawatomi were considered the "youngest brother."
The Potawatomi are first mentioned in French records, which suggest that, in the early 17th century, they lived in what is now southwestern Michigan. During the Beaver Wars, they fled to the area around Green Bay to escape attacks by the Iroquois and Neutral Nation.
Potawatomi warriors were an important part of Tecumseh's Confederacy and took part in Tecumseh's War, the War of 1812 and the Peoria War, although their allegiance switched repeatedly between the British and the Americans.
At the time of the War of 1812, a band of Potawatomi were present near Fort Dearborn, in the current location of Chicago. This tribe was agitated by chiefs Blackbird and Nuscotomeg (Mad Sturgeon), and a force of about 500 attacked the evacuation column leaving Fort Dearborn; a majority of the civilians and 54 of Captain Nathan Heald's force were killed, along with many wounded. This attack is referred to as the Fort Dearborn massacre. A Potawatomi chief named Mucktypoke (Makdébki, Black Partridge), counseled against the attack and later saved some of the civilians that were being ransomed by the Potawatomi. There was also Potawatomi land in Crown Point, Indiana.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Indians purchased of land near Shabbona, Illinois, in rural DeKalb County.
French Period (1615–1763)
period of contact began with early explorers who reached the Potawatomi in western Michigan and then found the tribe located along the Door Peninsula
of Wisconsin. By the end of the French period, the Potawatomi had begun a move to the Detroit
area of Michigan, leaving the large communities in Wisconsin.
English Period (1763–1783)
The British period of contact began with the French removal at the end of the French and Indian War
and was punctuated by Pontiac’s Rebellion
and the capture of every British frontier garrison but one, at Detroit. The Potawatomi nation continued to grow and expanded westward from Detroit, most notably in the development of the St. Joseph villages adjacent to the Miami
in southwestern Michigan. The Wisconsin communities continued and moved south along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
American Treaty Period (1783–1830)
The American Treaty period of Potawatomi history began with the Treaty of Paris (1783)
, which ended the American Revolutionary War and established the United States' interest in the lower Great Lakes. It lasted until the treaties for removal were signed. The Potawatomi were recognized as a single tribe and there were often a few tribal leaders that all villages accepted. Still, the Potawatomi had a dispersed organization and belonged to several main divisions based on where they were located: Milwaukee
or Huron River
, the St. Joseph River
, the Kankakee River
and Wabash Rivers
, the Illinois River
and Lake Peoria, and the Des Plaines
and Fox Rivers
. The Chiefs listed below are grouped by their geographic area.
- Siggenauk (Siginaak: "Le Tourneau" or "Blackbird")
Des Plaines and Fox River Potawatomi
- Waubansee (He Causes Paleness))
- Waweachsetohalong with La Gesse, Gomo or Masemo (Resting Fish)
Illinois River Potawatomi
- Mucktypoke (Makdébki: "Black Partridge")
- Senachewine (d. 1831) (Petacho or Swift Water) was the brother of Gomo who was chief among the Lake Peoria Potawatomi
- Shabbona (1775–unk) (Burly Shoulders)
Kankakee River (Iroquois and Yellow Rivers) Potawatomi
St. Joseph and Elkhart Potawatomi
Tippecanoe and Wabash River Potawatomi
Fort Wayne Potawatomi
- Metea (1760?–1827) (Sulker)
- Wabnaneme on the Pigeon River
American Removal Period (1830–1840)
The Removal period of Potawatomi history began with the treaties of the late 1820s when reservations were created, then continually reduced in size. The final step was the removal of the Illinois Potawatomi to Nebraska
and then the Indiana Potawatomi to Kansas
. Many Potawatomi found ways to remain, primarily those in Michigan, and others fled to their Odawa
neighbors or Canada to avoid removal.
There are several active bands of Potawatomi:
- Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Oklahoma
- Forest County Potawatomi Community, Wisconsin
- Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi (also known as the Gun Lake tribe), based in Dorr, Michigan in Allegan County, Michigan
- Hannahville Indian Community, Michigan
- Moose Deer Point First Nation, Ontario, Canada
- Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, based in Calhoun County, Michigan
- Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan and Indiana
- Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kansas
- Stoney Point and Kettle Point bands, Ontario, Canada
- Walpole Island band; an unceded island between the United States and Canada
| Canada |
Chauvignerie (1736) and Morgan (1877) mentions among the Potawatomi doodems
- Bené (Turkey)
- Gagagshi (Crow)
- Gnew (Golden Eagle)
- Jejakwé (Thunderer, i.e. Crane)
- Mag (Loon)
- Mekchi (Frog)
- Mek (Beaver)
- Mewi'a (Wolf)
- Mgezewa (Bald Eagle)
- Mkedésh-gékékwa (Black Hawk)
- Mko (Bear)
- Mshéwé (Elk)
- Mshike (Turtle)
- Nmé (Sturgeon)
- Nmébena (Carp)
- Shagéshi (Crab)
- Wabozo (Rabbit)
- Wakeshi (Fox)
The Potawatomi first lived in lower Michigan, then moved to northern Wisconsin and eventually settled into northern Indiana and central Illinois. In the early 19th century, major portions of Potawatomi lands were annexed by the U.S. government. Following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, most of the Potawatomi people were forcibly removed from the tribe's lands. Many perished en route to new lands in the west through Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, following what became known as the "Trail of Death".
|Year or Century
||East of Michilimackinac, MI |
||Islands of Door Peninsula, WI (1st Fr) |
||(until) with Hochunk (Winnebago) west of Green Bay, WI |
||Sault Ste. Marie, MI |
||Mouth of Green Bay, WI/MI |
||Milwaukee River, WI |
||on St. Joseph River, MI/IN |
Potawatomi (also spelled Pottawatomie; in Potawatomi Bodéwadmimwen or Bodéwadmi Zheshmowen or Neshnabémwen) is a Central Algonquian language and is spoken around the Great Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Kansas and in southern Ontario. There are fewer than 50 people who speak Potawatomi as a first language, most of them elderly. There is currently an effort underway to revitalize the language.
Potawatomi language is the most similar to the Odawa language; however, it also has borrowed a considerable amount of vocabulary from Sauk. Like the Odawa language, or the Ottawa dialect of the Anishinaabe language, the Potawatomi language exhibits great amount of vowel syncope.
Many places in the Midwest have names derived from the Potawatomi language, including Allegan, Waukegan, Muskegon, Oconomowoc and Skokie.