Potawatomi people have called the land in the lower Great Lakes area home for hundreds of years. Around the turn of the nineteenth century when American settlers first came to southwestern Michigan, they would have found the Potawatomi leader Leopold Pokagon and his villagers living in what is now Bertrand Township, Michigan.
As the 1833 Treaty of Chicago established the conditions for the removal of the Potawatomi westward, this small band of Potawatomi, under Pokagon’s leadership, negotiated the right to remain in their homeland—in part because they had demonstrated a strong attachment to Catholicism. This connection was most poignantly illustrated with the founding of the University of Notre Dame: Fr. Stephen Badin ministered to the Potawatomi in Pokagon’s original village in Bertrand, Michigan, but then moved the mission to the current site of the University.
In 1838 Leopold Pokagon purchased land for his village in Silver Creek Township near Dowagiac, Michigan, and moved his people there. As the Indian Removal Act played out, Potawatomi from northern Indiana and Michigan sought refuge at Pokagon’s village. The descendants of this group, about 4,500 citizens today, are the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. The Pokagon homeland is identified now as the six counties of LaPorte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, Starke, Marshall and Kosciusko in northern Indiana and the four counties of Berrien, Cass, Van Buren and Allegan in southwest Michigan.
As Indiana’s only federally-recognized tribe, and one of twelve federally-recognized tribes in Michigan, the Pokagon Band today maintains its sovereign right to self rule, and its government-to-government relationships with Indiana, Michigan and the United States government. As a sovereign Indian nation, the Pokagon Band exercises jurisdiction over its citizens and its tribal lands, maintains an independent tribal court and police department, and regulates its natural resources.An eleven-member Tribal Council, which is elected to staggered, three-year terms by Band citizens, governs the Pokagon Band. This modern tribal government places a premium on the service it provides to citizens. As they have for generations, the Pokagon people can rely on their community for support with nourishment, shelter, learning, and physical and mental healing and wellness.
The Band aims to respectfully promote and protect its culture, dignity, education, health and welfare and self-sufficiency of Elders, youth, families and future generations, while preserving Mother Earth. The Pokagon Band strives to give its people a better quality of life, and to be economically independent from federal and state governments, allowing the Band to exercise its sovereignty.
For a more indepth look at Pokagon Band history, click the link below.