Pokagon Band and Notre Dame

From the Notre Dame Observer:

Pokagon Band part of ND history, land

Relationship with Potawatomi tribe celebrated during Native American Heritage Month
By: Katie Peralta

While driving around South Bend, students might notice Potawatomi Park, Potawatomi Zoo and Pokagon Street – places all named after former residents of the area, the Potawatomi American Indian tribe and its local division, the Pokagon Band.

But not all passers-by may be aware that the land upon which Notre Dame was built once belonged to the Pokagon Band.

As a part of Native American Heritage Month, Notre Dame’s Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) will host a series of events bringing members of the Potawatomi tribe to campus to relay the history between the tribe and the University. As part of this series, MSPS will host a dinner Dec. 4 featuring members of the Potawatomi tribe to share their history.

Before Notre Dame founder Father Edward Sorin claimed this plot of land on Nov. 26, 1842, the land had been inhabited by the Pokagon Band, said Kevin Daugherty, educational resource developer for the Pokagon Band.

The Chicago Treaty of 1833, however, ordered the removal of Indians in the northern Indiana region, Daugherty said. Leopold Pokagon, a prominent Potawatomi leader and the spokesperson after whom the Pokagon Band is named, negotiated the right to stay on the land and was given a sum of money, Daugherty said. Pokagon used this money to buy land northwest of modern-day Dowagiac, Mich., where Daugherty said many members of the band still reside today.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Potawatomi land stretched from what is now Chicago to Detroit, Daugherty said.

Many different villages populated this region and considered themselves Potawatomi, sharing a common language and culture. Such villages had alliances but operated independently on a local level.

The Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians resided in the southwest Michigan and northern Indiana region, including the grounds where campus is now.

“They of course moved around a bit,” Daugherty said. “They moved along the St. Joseph River to farm, hunt and gather.”

Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr led an archaeological survey along the St. Joseph River about five years ago. The survey, a joint effort of a Notre Dame field school and the Pokagon Band, lasted about three years and revealed a few village sites along the river, Schurr said.

American settlers began moving west and consequently pushed for removal of American Indians by the U.S. government, Daugherty said.

In compliance with settlers’ demands for westward migration, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 dictated that all native peoples east of the Mississippi River move to present day states of Kansas and Oklahoma, said Ben Secunda, a Notre Dame history professor.

Just as the Cherokee’s removal was called the “Trail of Tears,” Secunda said, the Potawatomi called their removal the “Trail of Death.” The Potawatomi tribe, along with sympathetic whites such as the Catholic missionaries and traders friendly to the Indians, strongly protested it.

Secunda noted that violent roundups, led by governmental officials like Indian agent John Tipton, occurred throughout the Midwest except in the area of Michigan where Leopold Pokagon had secured land for his people. Pokagon’s land, Secunda said, became a safe haven for refugees evading the removal to Kansas. Baptist missionaries in the area supported such removals, he said.

To resist such removal, Leopold Pokagon, in 1830, trekked to Detroit to the Catholic headquarters to make an appeal, Secunda said. He asked for a Catholic priest to come back with him, one who would aid in removal resistance, convincing Father Stephen Badin and the Catholic missionaries to come down to the South Bend area, Secunda said.

Badin and the missionaries came and worked out of Pokagon’s log chapel, the famous historic landmark next to Saint Mary’s Lake, Secunda said. This became their base of operations.

Essentially, he said, out of Leopold Pokagon’s appeal came Notre Dame.

“The Pokagon band, Roman Catholic Church and Notre Dame priests supplemented each other at a key point in their history,” Schurr said. “Since then the groups have gone their separate ways. None would be as successful as they are now.”

Badin and the other Catholic missionaries successfully replaced the other pro-removal missionaries.

“The forerunners of the University did the right thing,” Secunda said. “With their help, the Potawatomi people were able to maintain a level of self-sufficiency, avoid removal, become Catholic and basically survive as a people.”

When Sorin arrived in the area in fall of 1841, “the Pokagons and the Catholics were interacting readily,” Daugherty said.

From the beginning, the Potawatomi in the area coexisted peacefully with the new settlers, Schurr said.

In fact, he said, Badin and the other priests shared many meals with the tribe members. They also lived in close proximity with the tribe.

The Pokagon Band today is scattered throughout Midwest. This dispersal is not totally unprecedented, Daugherty said.

“We have never had a land base or tribal ownership,” he said.

Though there is dispersal, the largest Pokagon population today is located in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan.

About 3,300 members are in the Band today, and Daugherty said roughly 40 percent live within about 30 miles of Dowagiac. There is also a large concentration of people in the Kalamazoo area, with the remainder scattered across the Midwest.

Native American Heritage Month at Notre Dame includes a number of programs. In addition to the Dec. 4 dinner, the agenda includes a workshop in black ash basketry on Nov. 26. A visual display on contemporary American Indians will be displayed in the library for the remainder of the month.