Dowagiac shares ‘One Story’

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jefferson Ballew teaches two SMC students how to make dream catchers during January’s event. (Submitted photo)

Jefferson Ballew teaches two SMC students how to make dream catchers during January’s event. (Submitted photo)

While the men and women of Dowagiac come from many different backgrounds and walks of life, they all belong to one community.

This year, a group of local organizations are hoping that many will all share one story together as well.

Beginning in January, members of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, the Dowagiac Area History Museum, Southwestern Michigan College, the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival and the Dowagiac District Library came together to launch the One Story (Ngot Yajmown) project. Throughout the next year, the community is encouraged to read “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich, while participating in lectures, book talks, outdoor activities and other events that loosely tie into the story.

The next One Story event will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, at the museum, featuring a group discussion about “The Round House.” The discussion is one of several activities lined up over the next few weeks for the project.

The idea for One Story was devised last year, when the Pokagon Band looked to partner with other community entities for a series of collaborative community events, said Kristie Bussler, the Pokagon Band’s educational resource specialist and one of the main coordinators for the program.

“We talked about doing the Big Read, which is a national program,” Bussler said. “But we saw that didn’t fit our needs, so we decided to do something similar instead.”

The committee created One Story, selecting Erdrich’s novel, which won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction. The author, a member of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, has authored 13 novels throughout her career, along with collections of poetry, short stories, children’s books and a memoir.

“The Round House” tells the story of a 13-year-old Native American whose family and community is nearly undone by an act of violence committed against his mother on North Dakota reservation.

“It has a Native American theme, but it’s not just a Native American story,” Bussler said. “It’s a coming of age story, and a mystery. It has something that can appeal to everybody.”

SMC was one of the first members of the One Story committee to feature events related to the novel. Reading instructor Gail Shirey used the story in both her fall and spring classes, and the college has hosted book talks in their library, Bussler said. They also hosted a Pokagon cultural event in late January, bringing in tribe cultural specialist Jefferson Ballew to discuss Pokagon crafts with students, faculty and members of the public.

“[Ballew] made dream catchers with students and did a presentation on the etiquette of Pow Wows,” Bussler said. “We had a huge turnout, it was excellent.”

Later this month, on April 24, the Band and Dogwood will host the opening of the “Life is Art” exhibit at the festival’s office at inside the Huntington Bank building downtown, from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit will feature pottery, clothing, baskets and other crafts created by Potawatomi artists, and will run through May 22.

On May 8, the tribe will host a discussion about jurisdictional and legal issues on Native American lands, at Pokagon Band Community Center.

“The laws presented in the book are pretty complicated, yet are a central element of the story,” Bussler said. “We thought it would be nice to allow people to ask questions about it.”

So far, the response to the events and to the novel itself has been positive, Bussler said.

“I think they love it,” she said. “I’ve talked to Pokagon and non-Pokagon citizens, and they all think it’s a wonderful project, and they want to know what’s coming next. There’s a lot of excitement in the community for it.”

People interested in more information about One Story can check out the project’s website at