The story of Potawatomi and other Nishnabe peoples stretches back centuries. The Potawatomi, along with the Odawa and Ojibwe, were once living in the northeastern corner of the United States as one people known collectively as Nishnabe. Seven prophets came to the Nishnabe, and each spoke of a fire, foretelling specific eras the people would endure.
Before written word, the Potawatomi passed history down through storytelling. As an ode to one of the earliest oral traditions, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center begins its 11 galleries with the Seven Fires gallery.
The gallery features watercolor-inspired artwork panels and teachings that accompany each prophecy. Many of the animals depicted are very revered by the Potawatomi people and help provide a visual representation for each prophecy in the Tribe's history.
Each prophet spoke of key eras that the Potawatomi have endured including the Nishnabe migration to the Great Lakes Region, European arrival, loss of culture and eventual rekindling in the seventh and final fire.
Many believe the Potawatomi are in the seventh fire, walking along the path of Potawatomi ancestors, picking up pieces of the culture and traditions left behind to build a strong, healthy future for the next seven generations.
Throughout the CHC's 11 galleries, visitors experience references back to the Seven Fires oral tradition. The Seven Fires gallery serves as a reminder that the Potawatomi knew challenges, like forced removal and other trying eras, were inevitable, but the Tribe's teachings and cultural traditions carry the Potawatomi through, and in the end, the Potawatomi people will see a better day.
Potawatomi Origin Stories
Generations of Potawatomi preserved history and culture through spoken language and the art of oral traditions. Stories and interactive video in the CHC’s second gallery, Mamogosnan’s Gifts: Origins of the Potawatomi People, highlights narratives that record Potawatomi beliefs, culture, history and early way of life.
These stories, often referred to as the Potawatomi Origin Stories, provide a cultural and historical foundation for the Tribe. In Potawatomi and Nishnabe culture, these stories describe the genesis of the world and people.
Oral traditions are at the heart of the Potawatomi. In fact, every winter, while seeking reprieve from the bitter cold, the people leaned on elders for traditional tales and lessons. There are also specific cultural teachings that should only be told and taught during the winter.
In addition to oral traditions, Mamogosnan’s Gifts provides a glimpse into traditional wild rice (mnomen) harvesting techniques, linking back to the museum’s first exhibit, the Seven Fires Prophecy. In the third fire, or third prophecy, the Potawatomi knew they reached the land promised to them when they found food growing on the water.
The CHC provides visitors unique learning opportunities through Mamogosnan’s Gifts: Origins of the Potawatomi People. Each video is designed to allow visitors the opportunity to hear and interpret these early narratives for themselves, just like the Tribe’s oral traditions have since the dawn of time and preserves important cultural teachings for generations to come.
Potawatomi oral traditions help explain the world’s initial population, its destruction by the Creator in the great flood, the formation of land, the origination of sacred ceremony, medicines, the clan system for social structure, the significance of the eagle and more.
All Nishnabe peoples come from Nishnabe, original man, and share similar oral traditions and parables. However, each group developed their unique versions over time. Today, CPN members and visitors can hear and know these oral traditions through the Cultural Heritage Center's gallery Mamogosnan’s Gifts: Origins of the Potawatomi People , which helps keep this important part of Potawatomi culture alive for generations to come.