From the South Bend Tribune:
Reservation revival moving forward
JUSTIN A. HINKLEY
Battle Creek Enquirer
FULTON, Mich. — The Pine Creek Indian Reservation, home to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, is a different place than it was when Cheryl Morseau-Williams grew up there.
When Morseau-Williams, 63, left the reservation at age 17, the roads were dirt. The 10 Potawatomi families living there had no running water. Electricity had been installed just several years prior.
The reservation had little besides tradition and a church to keep tribe members there. Morseau-Williams, like many of her peers, moved to Battle Creek, Mich., for work and a home.
Today, new community and health centers invite tribe members to seek essential services, and an outbreak of new construction promises an infusion of new residents to the 120-acre reservation.
In August, Morseau-Williams became one of them when she moved into one of 16 new low-rent houses for tribal elders on the reservation.
“It’s wonderful,” Morseau-Williams said of her new home. “It’s awesome.”
The change has been fast. Between 2002 and 2006, the tribe received more than $13 million in state and federal grants and contract dollars. The money has paid for new houses, roads, a $1.1 million community center and a $1.1 million health center.
The tribe’s budget has grown from about $1.5 million in 2001 to about $3.25 million 2006.
In just one week earlier this fall, the tribe received four grants totaling more than $1 million; the largest is a three-year, $600,000 Office of Minority Health grant to implement heart disease and diabetes prevention education at its new health center.
Also, a $300,000 Housing and Urban Development Block Grant will help build three energy-efficient houses.
Other grants received that week will help the tribe continue language preservation classes, provide substance abuse and mental health treatment at its new health facility and set up a Tribal Emergency Response Commission.
With the proposed Firekeepers Casino in Calhoun County’s Emmett Township set to break ground this fall, leaders say the tribe is on the path to becoming economically self-sufficient, setting the stage for the community’s rebirth.
“We want to make this home for all our tribal members,” said Tribal Council Chairwoman Laura Spurr. “People do want to come back, and we want them to have a community to come back to.”
“I think it’s great,” said tribesman Mike Mandoka, 66, who in 1996 was one of the first to move back to the reservation. “It’s great having a nice homestead for the tribe.”
“It’s about time,” Denise Mandoka, 34, who’s lived on the reservation about a year, said. “It’s nice to have everybody back together. My cousins and I grew up together, and over the years we got separated. Now, because of all these houses they’ve built, now we’re back together and we can be close again.”
An important part of the tribe’s growth has targeted maintaining tribal culture. Language classes and Native American Communities courses are made possible with the new community center. Having more tribe members on the reservation helps this tradition reach more people.
“It’s important for the kids,” Denise Mandoka said. “We don’t have any fluent speakers (in our language). It’s important for the kids to learn that, before our language is about gone.”
The Potawatomi, like many American Indians in Michigan and around the country, were forced from their land by the U.S. government to Oklahoma and Kansas in the early 1800s.
In 1840, six Potawatomi families returned to Michigan and in 1845 purchased what became Pine Creek Reservation and formed the Nottawaseppi Huron Band.
For a time, the reservation thrived, Tribal Operations Manager David ThunderEagle said, but the Great Depression hit the reservation hard. During World War II, many tribe members left to join the military and never returned.
The tribe’s economic rebirth began in 1995 when it received federal recognition. This allowed the tribe to seek contract dollars from the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services to provide services to its members.
In 2002, the tribe formed a planning and land-use advisory committee to develop a master plan for the tribe’s economic growth. The committee surveyed Huron Potawatomi members to determine their wants and needs.
“We picked out critical areas of the survey that we wanted to address,” Tribal Council Vice Chairman Homer Mandoka said. “The No. 1 want of the tribe was housing. At first, there wasn’t an overwhelming number of tribe members who wanted to move back (to the reservation). Now that’s growing.”
There are 818 members of the Huron Potawatomi; about 400 live in southwest Michigan in the tribe’s seven-county service area that extends between Branch and Kent counties. The reservation today is home to 35 people, though dozens of area residents utilize services regularly and leaders are bracing for growth.
With more than 500 Huron Potawatomi of working age, more than 40 percent are unemployed or underemployed, ThunderEagle said. The tribe hopes to offer more career development opportunities.
Creating those opportunities is a key strategy for building the reservation community.
“When you get people some place they’re proud of, some place they call their own, they’ll want to stay and contribute,” Spurr said. “We hope this reservation will be that place.”