How to experience a real Nottawaseppi Pow Wow

By Leeanne Seaver

The sound of drums reaches you first. It seems to be coming from the trees. You drive towards it on Mno-Bmadzewen Way over tribal land that belongs to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi (NHBP). This is Pine Creek Reservation, established in 1845 by Chief Moguago on 120 acres between Fulton and Athens, and their Pow Wow has already begun.

Two tribal volunteers under a small canopy beside the road wave you over. You get a cheerful greeting, a map, and a small bottle of sunblock imprinted with the emblem of the tribe.

You should know that “Potawatomi” is just the way Europeans pronounced the name of the indigenous people of this place. They are the Bodewéwadmik: the ones who live near waterways. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Bodewéwadmik are “the people who can hear the river.” You made note of that point during a talk given by jingle dancer Elizabeth Ballew, a member of the Huron Band, at the Vicksburg Pavilion in July, 2014.

That’s how you learn you went to school in Vicksburg with some of the kids who may have lived at Pine Creek. Ever since that 2014 event, you’ve been trying to fill the gaps of your embarrassing ignorance. Having spent most of your adult life in Colorado where Native American presence is robust, the lack of indigenous culture in this area puzzles you when you move back to your hometown. Discovering the Nottawaseppi have been here all along is as remarkable as it is bewildering. You go to several Pow Wows around the state, taking pictures without knowing the etiquette (ask first). The 2022 Pine Creek gathering June 25-26 is as photogenic as ever (you ask first) but there is so much more than a photo opp going on here.

As Vicksburg celebrates its sesquicentennial in 2022, it’s a very good time to point out the indigenous population who’ve been here longer than 150 years. Local historians have done some good work documenting the local Nottawaseppi tribe, especially Maggie Snyder of the Vicksburg Historical Society. The NHBP has a website where you can learn the tribe’s history from its own point of view. According to its press kit, “The Potawatomi Nation encompassed lands along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, across to Detroit and from the Huron and Grand Rivers southward into northern Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Tribal Members were later forced to cede the remainder of their ‘reserved lands’ contained within the ‘Notawasepe Reserve’ and were relocated to lands west of the Mississippi River. During this removal, called the Trail of Death, a group of Tribal Members escaped and returned to their native lands in Michigan. Now the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi reside on the Pine Creek Indian Reservation, which was part of these traditional lands.”

The 1972 tome of Vicksburg history, “Water Over the Dam”, published another version of these events. In it, General Brady, then commander of the U.S. Army from Detroit to the Mississippi River, removed the local Potawatomies with “so much prudence, care and kindness that the Indians actually worshipped him.” (source quoted on p 14). However, “a few clever families hid in the forest near here and never left. Twenty-nine others escaped from the march at Holdeman’s Grove, Illinois, and eventually made their way back home. In 1848, a group of sympathetic citizens near Athens donated 120 acres of land for a Potawatomi settlement there—one which is still in existence.” (p 17)

And with that, you’ve got a classic example of the same historical event reported by two relevant sources from very different perspectives. You favor a “nothing about us without us” revision of the story, but that’s beyond the scope of this article, which brings us to Amanda Webber Hess.

In Native American culture, the Pow Wow is a sacred gathering. It brings the tribe (or tribes) together to dance, sing, socialize, and honor their culture. It’s a formal, ritualized ceremony that also feels kind of like a family reunion. Tribal values are shared through many activities—some fun, some solemn. The young are encouraged to participate. The elders do, too. There are competitions for the best dancers. Traditional dress and foods are indulged. The pride in belonging to this community is palpable.

The drumming continues all day at center of the arena. There are many kinds of dancers—male and female, some local, some have come from a distance. Amanda Hess is a jingle dancer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She was invited to the 2022 Pine Creek Pow Wow to be head jingle dancer—an honor signifying her experience and expertise. With delicate steps synchronized to the songs and drumbeats, she weaves a pattern on the grass… a flower or something that connects her to the earth. You watch her rhythmic movements, mesmerized. Amanda is not performing for you, she is dancing with nature. The land is a partner and a palette.

Later, when you ask permission to take her picture, Amanda smiles and agrees. You talk a bit. You will learn her name in Anishinaabe (a reference to a language-family of northern North American tribes) is Wgema Gno Kwe. “It means Chief Eagle Woman,” she explains. “I am from Hannahville Indian Community Potawatomi tribe. I was born on the reservation and then raised nearby after I was adopted in the same city of our tribal reservation lands.” She tells you the most amazing story of her Vision Quest earlier this summer… she shows you the scar on the back of her head where she was struck by lightning.

Her story is too big to fit your wordcount limit for this issue, so you will write a second article in an upcoming South County News (watch for it). And you will keep writing in second-person voice, although all this you-you-you is proving a bit clunky. It is understood that by “you” I mean “me.” But I do also mean you—the reader. You are a “native of Michigan” (or somewhere else) and want to know more about this land that was “made for you and me” from the indigenous people who lived here before us, and are still very much among us.

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