Historical Society to celebrate Southfield’s original residents

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published May 1, 2019

 A re-creation of traditional Potawatomi clothing is on display in an exhibit on the nation’s history in the Southfield area at the Southfield Historical Museum.

A re-creation of traditional Potawatomi clothing is on display in an exhibit on the nation’s history in the Southfield area at the Southfield Historical Museum.

File photo by Sarah Purlee

 Lawrence Technological University librarian Adrienne Aluzzo, of Dearborn, looks over some maps at the exhibit last year.

Lawrence Technological University librarian Adrienne Aluzzo, of Dearborn, looks over some maps at the exhibit last year.

File photo by Sarah Purlee

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SOUTHFIELD — To celebrate the teachings and values of the indigenous people who first called Southfield home, the Southfield Historical Society is hosting Potawatomi Culture Day.

The celebration will be held 1-4 p.m. May 4 at the Burgh Historical Park, 26080 Berg Road.

According to the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi’s website, some stories say that the Potawatomi people have always been in the Great Lakes region, but other stories tell of a migration from the Eastern Seaboard with the Ojibwe and the Odawa nations.

The three tribes were loosely organized as the Three Fires Confederacy. The Ojibwe were said to be the Keepers of Tradition; the Odawa were the Keepers of the Trade; and the Potawatomi were the Keepers of the Fire. Potawatomi reportedly means “people of the place of the fire.”

The Potawatomi eventually migrated from north of Lake Huron and Lake Superior to the shores of Lake Michigan. This location — in what is now Wisconsin, southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northern Illinois — is where European explorers in the early 17th century first came upon the Potawatomi. They called themselves “Neshnabek,” meaning the “original” or “true” people.

“We are trying to bring back focus to the indigenous people of Michigan, especially the Potawatomi, who were coerced out of our area,” Southfield Historical Society President Darla Van Hoey said.

The Potawatomi were slowly forced out of the area as a result of the 1807 Treaty of Detroit, Van Hoey said previously.

Thanks to a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, the Historical Society put together an exhibit on the Potawatomi people of the Southfield area. The exhibit has been open since May 2018.

The free Potawatomi Culture Day will begin at 1 p.m., when attendees are invited to gather in the church at the park to hear the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings — humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love — are a collection of values the Three Fires use to teach the basic principles of conduct toward others. The Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin Chorus will lead the teachings through story and song.

“(The teachings) are ways to live a good and honest and healthy life,” Van Hoey said.

At 2 p.m., attendees will take a 10-minute walk to the Rouge River at the Valley Woods Nature Preserve, located at the corner of Civic Center Drive and Telegraph Road. At the river, a water ceremony will be held, showcasing the importance of the element.

Van Hoey said two indigenous women will bless the water during the ceremony.

“The water is such an important part of all of this. If we were to do this on an annual basis, we will hold it closer to Earth Day to show the importance of water, especially in the Great Lakes, because water is so precious in this area,” Van Hoey said.

Peggy Collins, a Southfield resident and a member of the Gaia Chorus, said those who wish to participate in the water ceremony are asked to bring a copper cup filled with water from home. Although only women are allowed to participate in the ceremony, men are welcome to attend. Participating women are also asked to wear skirts, Collins said.

According to Collins, the chorus often lends its voices to raise funds for the people affected by the Flint water crisis, as well as those in Detroit, with a heavy focus on water rights.

“One of our members moved up to the Traverse City area to do a yearlong teaching with the tribal leaders up there. What she realized is that a lot of the teachings fit in with the songs we sing,” Collins said.

Following the ceremony, at 3 p.m., guests will be invited back into the church to view the PBS film “The Seven Generation River,” which details the Pokagon Band’s efforts to restore the Dowagiac River.

Also at 3 p.m., attendees can visit the Town Hall Museum to explore the Potawatomi exhibit, and refreshments will be offered in the church annex.

For more information, contact the Southfield Historical Society at historicsouthfield@gmail.com.

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