Potawatomi dancers at the pow wow

Potawatomi dancers

I’ve known for most of my life that I have Potawatomi and Cherokee Indian ancestors. I’ve always felt more connected to my German roots, but I’ve been curious about my Indian side just the same. So when the opportunity came up to see a Potawatomi pow wow, I took it.

The Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians (or, as they say, Pokégnek Bodéwadmik), has this pow wow every Labor Day weekend on its land near Dowagiac, Michigan. Potawatomi from all over gather to dance and sing and celebrate their heritage. It’s also an opportunity for many tribes, not just Potawatomi, to sell handmade goods. Of course we checked out the booths, and I even bought a colorful piece of pottery. But the dancing was where it was at.

This young lady’s feet barely left the ground as she danced. It is supposed to symbolize her connection to mother Earth.

Potawatomi dancers

In contrast, this flamboyant fellow really twisted and twirled, his fringe always flying.

Potawatomi dancers

Wait, what? A blonde-haired Potawatomi dancer?

Potawatomi dancers

I soon figured out that the more elaborate the regalia, the more active the dancing.

Potawatomi dancers

I’ve always thought my Potawatomi ancestors came from my mother’s mother’s family, but I’ve been mistaken. Talking about it in the car on the way home, Mom said that her mother’s family had Cherokee ancestors, but Grandpa’s grandmother was full Potawatomi. That made Grandpa a quarter Potawatomi, but you never would have guessed it as he looked like he came straight off the boat from Germany. Even though I’m just one sixteenth Potawatomi (and probably an equal measure Cherokee), I look far more Indian than my grandfather ever did.

Last year about this time I attended the rededication of a monument to Potawatomi chief Menominee. Check it out.


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