Native Languages of the Americas: Potawatomi (Nishnabek, Pottawatomie, Pottawatomi)
Language: Potawatomi--more properly spelled Bode'wadmi, though it seldom is--is an
Algonquian language spoken by fewer than 100 people in Ontario
and the north-central United States. The current speakers are all older people and there
is fear the language may die out, though language revitalization
efforts are ongoing. Potawatomi is a polysynthetic language with long, complex verbs and fairly free word order.
People: The Potawatomi people hail from the Great Lakes area, though many Potawatomis were
relocated to Kansas and Oklahoma during the Indian Removals. They are relatives and
allies of the Ojibwe and Ottawa tribes,
and the name "Potawatomi" refers to their religious/political role as "fire keepers" in that alliance. Their name for themselves is "Nishnabek" (related to the Ojibwe word
"Anishinabeg.") There are around 28,000 Potawatomi Indians today.
History: The Ojibwe, Ottawa,
and Potawatomi tribes belong to a traditional alliance known as the Council of Three Fires, who clashed frequently with the
Iroquois Confederacy. During the War of 1812, the Potawatomi tribe supported the
Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and the Prophet, who were fighting on the British side.
The defeat of this pan-Indian alliance meant the relocation of the Potawatomi tribe to Iowa,
Kansas, and Oklahoma--some peaceably by treaty, others on forced marches by gunpoint. Some
groups of Potawatomi Indians remained in the Great Lakes region by fleeing into Canada, finding
refuge with their Ojibwe allies, or negotiating with their white neighbors; others still
live in Kansas or Oklahoma today.