The story of Potawatomi and other Neshnabe peoples stretches back to times lost to history, beginning on the East Coast of what is now North America. By the time Europeans arrived, the Great Migration of prophecy was complete and the tribes were living around the Great Lakes, with a social structure that included a strong communal lifestyle. The people were bound together through ties of kinship, custom and mutual necessity.
Communities built their villages around clan systems and extended families. Traditionally, individual communities were led by village approved councils and headmen whose power stemmed from their relationship with, and influence over, the people. Leaders who wielded authority enjoyed the privilege because people respected their opinions enough to heed their advice; they used this authority and power for influence to create alliances and build relationships with councils and headmen of neighboring tribes.
Creation Flood Story
Over several millennia, we Neshnabek/Bodewadmi have told the story of our creation and eventual destruction. Believing that the earth and our existence have been manifested in a succession of four worlds, each end is met with great devastation, humility and sacrifice. The story of the Great Flood embodies the compelling and humbling beginning of our fourth and current existence.
Protecting the Neshnabek from their destructive pasts, Kshamnedo [Creator] bestowed two gifts to the people. First was spiritual strength in the form of our ancient Midewewin Lodge, providing balance amid the spiritual and physical elements of life. Second was our traditional clan system, preserving and maintaining spiritual and social order among our people.
Seven Fires Prophecy
The Seven Fires Prophecy is an oral story/history that has been told over millennia. It describes a turbulent time when the Neshnabek [Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe] were visited by seven prophets. Each prophet spoke of a Fire (e.g., prophecy or era) that the Neshnabek would face and endure, forever changing their way of life. The prophecies help Neshnabek people know who they were in the past, are in the present and will be in the future.
Today we are in the 7th Fire, a revival of traditional culture, language and teachings. To fulfill this prophecy, we must embrace the knowledge, experience, and mutual past of our Neshnabek brothers. It is through us that our heritage lives on.
Heeding the first prophecy that they must leave their home on the East Coast of North America, the Neshnabek begin a mass migration inland from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes Region. Led by the sacred Megis shell of our Midewewin Lodge, the journey consisted of seven stops, the beginning and end signified by a turtle-shaped island. Today these locations are known as Montreal, Niagara Falls, the Detroit River, Manitoulin Island, Sault St. Marie, Spirit and Madeline Islands.
It was at Niagara Falls that the Neshnabek disbanded into three distinct tribes. Confederated through spirituality, each group established duties to serve the Neshnabek as a whole. First were the Ojibwe, migrating to the north and west of Lake Superior. They are our Keepers of the Medicine, providing spiritual guidance and protection. Next were the Odawa, establishing villages to the north of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron. They are our Keepers of the Trade, establishing and protecting the vast trade network controlled by the Neshnabek. Last to build a fire as one people were the Bodewadmi, migrating south to the coasts of Lake Michigan. We are known as Keepers of the Fire, providing protection for the sacred cultural and spiritual fire of our people.