Author promotes Pokagon book at SMC

What distinguishes “Imprints—The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the City of Chicago” is its authorship by tribal citizen John N. Low as a “10-year labor of love.”

John Low

John Low

Low, who lectured at Southwestern Michigan College March 17, followed by a book signing, is an assistant professor in comparative studies at The Ohio State University-Newark. He also teaches history and American Indian studies.

“Imprints,” published Feb. 1 by Michigan State University Press, devotes the second of six chapters to Simon Pokagon, author of “Queen of the Woods,” which Dowagiac is reading for One Story.

“It’s nice to be home. SMC has changed a lot,” Low said. “I’m a lawyer and a teacher, a Pokagon Potawatomi of Irish descent. I wanted to tell these stories I’ve heard all my life. I am an indigenous storyteller and scholar. I have a BA in American Indian studies from the University of Minnesota, a law degree and a doctorate in American culture from the University of Michigan. I can trace the Potawatomi side of my family back four generations to the early 1800s … the oral history of my family is that I am somehow related to the (Joseph) Bertrand Simon Pokagon described in his novel as a good friend.”

Low spent his childhood in a home across the St. Joseph River near Bertrand Road in Niles Township from the location of Leopold Pokagon’s 1830 village, which after 1833 moved to Sister Lakes.

Low has served as tribal attorney, tribal council member, as a member of the committee that negotiated the gaming compact with Michigan and co-authored the tribal constitution.

“Very little has been written about the Pokagon Potawatomi by tribal members,” Low said in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus as part of SMC’s academic speaker series.

“A lot of non-Natives don’t know we sued for the Chicago lakefront. Even some tribal members don’t know, so I want to preserve that,” Low said. “I still think it’s a valid claim. I still think we got screwed by the Supreme Court in 1917. Chicago was part of Potawatomi ancestral lands and our sphere of influence. We don’t have to accept the doctrine of conquest. We were here first. That should mean something.”

“After the great Chicago fire in October 1871,” Low said, “they took all the buildings and poured them into the lake, extending the lakeshore. Water Tower Place used to be on the waterfront. Michigan Avenue used to run along the lake. Now there’s Streeterville, Lincoln Park Zoo and Grant Park. Michael B. Williams and the Pokagon Potawatomi tribal council made a claim for the Chicago lakefront, which made sense to me. They argued fill was outside land ceded by treaty. We never ceded the lake bed. Had we won, we’d all be at my place in Trump Tower.”

Low chronicles Chicago Canoe Club’s contribution to Red Pride before it folded in 1972.

“I was amazed when I happened to go to Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles. It has one of the canoes in its display,” Low said. “The builder (Ralph Frese) was a non-Native who happened to own a fiberglass manufacturing plant. He had a lot of Indians working for him, Leroy Wesaw being one of them. They made birch bark canoe molds and made them out of fiberglass.”

Leopold Pokagon in the 1833 Treaty of Chicago negotiated an amendment that allowed his band to remain in Michigan while most Potawatomi were relocated west of the Mississippi River by the federal government as part of the Indian Removal Act.

They purchased 874 acres in what is now Cass County’s Silver Creek Township.

Simon, Leopold’s son, was a featured speaker on “Chicago Day,” Oct. 9, 1893, at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which attracted 700,000 fairgoers.

Low’s research took him to Eastern Michigan University, where he inquired about “Simon Pokagon’s teepee on campus that was re-erected by his granddaughter, Julia” on Sept. 4, 1909, in Twin Lakes, Ind., for the unveiling of Chief Menominee’s statue.

The reference librarian’s “eyes popped” as he brought out a fat folder, commenting, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter, community college, founded in 1964. The college averages in the top 10 percent nationally for student academic success based upon the National Community College Benchmark Project. Southwestern Michigan College strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services to meet the needs of students, and to serve our community. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.

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