By Leeanne Seaver
“This year’s gathering was unprecedented,” said Amanda Hess, a councilmember of the Hannahville Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and also known as Chief Eagle Woman. “And what we accomplished will hopefully set an example for other tribes.”
The 2023 gathering of Potawatomi Nations brought more than 2,000 from coast to coast to the Pine Creek Reservation near Fulton between July 24 to 30. “There are 12 Potawatomi nations today spread across the U.S. and Canada, and they refer to Michigan and other Great Lake states as their homelands,” explained Jamie Stuck, tribal council chairperson of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) located at Pine Creek.
The name Potawatomi is anglicized from Bodéwadmi, the name of the indigenous people native to this area who were forcibly expelled by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. “Actually, the removal of the Potawatomi was completed in phases. We were the last Potawatomi Band to be removed in 1840, and our final destination was supposed to be Kansas,” Stuck said. “Our ancestors, under the leadership of Chief Moguago, turned back towards Michigan at Skunk Grove, between Chicago and Green Bay, before establishing their residence at Pine Creek Reservation in 1845.”
The Potawatomi were not only separated as a result of the Indian Removal Act, but the children were taken from their families and placed in boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their language and practicing their culture and traditions. The Bodéwadmi communities were decimated, but they survived. “It’s an incredible, healing experience when we come back together,” Hess said. “The gathering is not just a pow wow but a collective celebration of our culture as a nation. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet other Potawatomi from across the U.S. and Canada and make lasting connections with our relatives.”
The gathering was rich in tribal traditions including dancing, drumming, and sharing native food, teachings, and stories. During the week-long event, participants could take classes which included native language and cultural practice. The “Voices of History” project being produced by the NHBP Audio-Visual Department recorded the elders to preserve tribal stories for generations to come.
Such experiences create unparalleled opportunities to bond as a tribal community. What was systematically torn apart by colonialism for almost two centuries is being restored and given new life. The 2023 gathering elevated this goal to an unprecedented level.
On July 27, the Tribal Council members of the 12 Potawatomi nations across North America voted on a resolution to establish the first-ever Bodéwadmi Confederation. This Confederation represents the tens of thousands of enrolled Potawatomi tribal members who reside all across North America and beyond.
“This marks a historical moment,” said Jamie Stuck. “First of its kind for the Potawatomi nations, this Confederation will enable our nations to have a stronger, much larger voice, with all of us collaborating to achieve the common goals not only for our people today, but also for the next seven generations.”
Match-E-Bash-She-Nash-E-Wish (Gun Lake Potawatomi) Tribal Councilmember Ben Brenner concurred, “This document and the new confederacy symbolize our commitment to the preservation and knowledge of our culture, language, and ways.”
The Pine Creek gathering was an astounding success on many levels, which was “so important to us,” Stuck emphasized. “We spent a year as local team members working with the economic, legal, and government side, and Firekeepers Casino, to prepare for it. It’s a testament to their hard work and dedication that we set a new standard for this gathering. We are now joined as a confederacy that will strengthen us. If you take one arrow, you can break it with ease, but a bundle of 12 is impossible to break.”