Local program prepares for upcoming events

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and several other local institutions are joining forces to share another story with the greater Dowagiac community.

The tribe department of education and its partners are preparing for the launch of its third annual One Story (Ngot Yajmowen) program, a several month long communitywide initiative with several events and activities focused around a single book. This year, organizers have selected “Queen of the Woods” as their lynchpin work — a novel written by an important figure in Potawatomi history, Simon Pokagon.

The festivities kick off with a creative workshop that takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Dowagiac Area History Museum. The activities will continue through May, with events such as a presentation by Pokagon author John Low March 17 at Southwestern Michigan College and lecture about the 1893 World’s Fair by historian Karen Nicholson April 6 at the Dowagiac museum.

One of the first novels published by an American Indian, Pokagon’s book is a semiautobiographical romantic story about the Pokagon leader and his lifelong love, Lonidaw. A uniquely told story rife with old Potawatomi traditions and language, the book serves a portrait of old Native American culture that was rarely shared with those outside the tribe, said Jefferson Ballew, a historian and cultural specialist with the Pokagon Band.

“This was one of the first books put out to mainstream America that described our heritage and traditions,” Ballew said.

Pokagon, the son of Pokagon Band patriarch Leopold Pokagon, became a well-known advocate of Native American populations in the late 1800s. A highly educated writer and speaker, Pokagon became a prominent voice among the Potawatomi nation, with his largest platform being the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, where he was invited to speak.

“He often served as the spokesman of our tribe at the time,” said Kristie Bussler, the Educational Resource Specialist with the Pokagon Band.

Despite being written by such a prominent figure in Pokagon history, many members of the tribe as well as others in the area have never experienced the seminal work — something that Bussler and other organizers are hoping to solve by featuring it with this year’s One Story, Bussler said. In addition, “Queen of the Woods” will serve as a chance to give people outside of the Potawatomi nation the best look yet at the rich history and heritage of the local Native American nation.

“This book will open that door, to let people what is it is like to live as a native,” Bussler said.

People are also invited to share their own personal tales or create their own works of arts as part of this year’s program, which will be compiled and shared by the tribe, Bussler said.

This year’s program is again presented by The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, Dowagiac Area History Museum, Dowagiac District Library, Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival Committee, Dowagiac Union Schools, and Southwestern Michigan College. A complete listing of events is available on onestoryread.com; complementary copies of “Queen of the Woods” can be picked up from any participating One Story partner.

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