Pokagon Band to host spring celebration

Published 8:50 am Thursday, April 11, 2019

DOWAGIAC — As the buds bloom in the trees, the grass regains its green hue and southwest Michigan stretches to release a long sigh with the last breath of winter, communities in Dowagiac are taking the opportunity to welcome spring.

One community that is taking every opportunity to celebrate the post-winter warmth is the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, the Pokagon Band is hosting Në Mnekmêk, or “Gifts of Spring,” at the Rodger Lake Pavilion. The event, organized by the band’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Language and Culture, is a mixed celebration of Arbor Day and Earth Day, as well as an opportunity to educate visitors about the environment and post-winter activities of the tribe.

“It means ‘gifts of spring,’” said Jennifer Kanine, the director of the Band’s DNR. “So one of the things we like to celebrate is the earth and the trees and the sugar bush season we just had.”

Members of the band will quite literally be bringing the gifts of spring to Saturday’s event. Jefferson Ballew IV and Wahsnoday Pamp, two of the sugar bush leads who worked on harvesting the sap and concocting maple syrup, will be in attendance to provide samples and a meal consisting of syrup-flavored dishes. They will also take time to talk about the process of harvesting and making syrup and give thanks to the many volunteers who helped during the end of the sugar bush season.

“We usually acknowledge all the volunteers that came out for the sugar season, make a meal with syrup foods and thank those that pitched in,” said Marcus Winchester, the director of the Language and Culture department.

Aside from the thanks and feasting, Saturday’s event will be an educational opportunity to expound on some of the practices, factors and values of what Kanine called the Pokagon Band’s “green initiative.” The DNR will have informational items at the event, presentations and demonstrations about the importance of recycling and decomposition, and various solar technologies for visitors to play with, all in an effort to communicate environmental consciousness.

“We can educate people to know they have a choice to reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse so they can make a difference,” Kanine said. “We want to educate surrounding neighbors who want to take better care of water and land.”

Kanine said her team will take the opportunity on Saturday to explain some of the work the Pokagon Band is doing to be environmentally conscious and prioritize its green initiative. The band has worked on projects like becoming completely agriculturally organic, working to replace cover crops in fields and improving its environmental management practices, Kanine said.

From the Pokagon perspective, however, the real education of events like the one on Saturday comes in reconnecting people with nature, the Pokagon culture and each other.

“To a certain degree, it helps them to continue the culture and helps reconnect with mother earth,” Kanine said.

“It’s important because this time of year, as it starts to get warmer, communities can see each other after long hard winter and share in the harvest,” Winchester said.

Gifts of Spring is free and open to the public. For more information, interested readers can email Jennifer.Kanine@pokagonband-nsn.gov.