Hannahville Indian Community History

Hannahville Potawatomi Tribal Profile


The Hannahville Potawatomi Indian Community is located in the south-central section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Menominee Country, 20 miles west of Escanaba, MI and 95 miles northeast of Green Bay, WI. The reservation was established by an act of Congress in 1913, although descendants of the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin Potawatomi have been residing in the Wilson/Bark River/Harris, MI area since 1853, specifically along the Cedar River.

By 1883 a Chippewa Methodist missionary by the name of Peter Marksman lent the Potawatomi at Cedar River monies to establish a permanent location around the towns of Harris and Wilson. Eventually, the reservation became known as Hannahville, named after the wife of the missionary.

The Potawatomi Tribe as a whole, has resided in the Great Lakes area for over 500 years. With the Ojibwa and Ottawa they formed the Council of the Three Fires. All three as Anishnabek (The People or Good People) of the Algonquian linguistic stock, and the name Potawatomi is said to mean People or the Place of the Fire, Keepers of the Fire, and at times were referred to as “Fire Nation”.

Prior to 1450, they lived further north in the upper Great Lakes, but then they begun a migration that led them south to settle in warmer climates and better agricultural lands. The rich soils along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and into northern Indiana, Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin now became their new homelands. By 1550 they had established dozens of villages in what is now Michigan from Ludington to the north to St. Joseph River area in the south, and again in the northern regions of Indiana, Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin. They first encountered the French explorer Jean Nicolet in 1634 in the Detroit area.

The Potawatomi traditional means of subsistence included farming, hunting, fishing, gathering of wild fruits and berries, and later, lumbering. Their bands lived in clan-based villages which were more complex than those of the Ojibwa or Ottawa as it relates to dodem and extended family structures, duties, roles and responsibilities and social interactions protocol, because their communities were larger and necessitated it be so.

The various Potawatomi bands in total were party in part or entirely to a record 41 treaties in the United States and Canada. The Michigan Potawatomi were party to 11 different treaties, with the major treaty being the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. This treaty, considering in was ratified under the President Andrew Jackson era of Indian Removal (1932-1940), set the stage for the justification of removing them West to Indian Territory (Oklahoma and Kansas). Jackson was of the feeling that all Indians living East of the Mississippi River should be moved to Oklahoma/Kansas as it would alleviate the “Indian problem” for the time being.

These southern Potawatomi were rounded up, some forcefully removed, to Indian Territory where they are now known as the Prairie Band Potawatomi of Kansas and Citizens Band Potawatomi in Oklahoma. Those in southern Wisconsin fled north, settling around what is now Forest County, WI and became known as the Forest County Potawatomi of Crandon, WI. Part of them moved on into the Upper Peninsula and are now known as the Hannahville Potawatomi. Some of the Potawatomi who escaped removal, hid out on Walpole Island, ON with their brethren and on other Canadian First Nation Anishnabek Reserves; some returned and became known as the Nottawaseppi Huron Band Potawatomi. The band was to become known as the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, under Chief Leopold Pokagon (numbering 280) in 1835 and through his skillful negotiations were able to allude removal.

Today, all of these 6 Potawatomi Tribes and the Gun Lake Pottawatomi, along with their Canadian kinfolk, meet collectively from time to time for cultural, language and spiritual sharing and the like.

During the 1880s, the Hannahville Potawatomi primarily subsisted by small scale farming and seasonal work in the woods as part of the area’s thriving lumbering industry. By the early 1900s the forestry activities had dwindled and the community farmlands, always marginal at best, were worn out. As such, the Hannahville Potawatomi survived any way they could and sought employment wherever possible. They continued to be basically ignored by the federal and state governments and had to turn inward for strength and survival purposes. In essence, health services were all but nonexistent and abject poverty was the norm.

Again, their reservation was established in 1913 and they were accorded federal recognition in 1937 under the terms of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which set up tribal governments as we know them today, with tribal constitutions, by-laws, corporate charters and elected governing bodies. Hannahville has a 12 member elected tribal council, and at one time, held elections every May and maintained an enrolled requirement of ½ or more degree of Indian blood. It eventually changed over the years, via tribal constitutional ordinances, and now elections are every two years and membership is ¼ or more Hannahville Potawatomi bloodline. Such a stringent requirement and practice, however, accounts for the small tribal population at the present time.

They struggled through the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s like the rest of Michigan Anishnabek country, with little hope or help for their peoples. Incidents of tuberculosis was high at Hannahville during the 40s & 50s, as well as short life expectancy, high rates of diabetes, alcoholism and inadequate educational and employment opportunities. The Tribal infrastructure could only barely be developed during these hard times.

After 1965, with President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty national initiatives, their living conditions began to improve, hope was reestablished and the infrastructure began making significant gains. They joined Bay Mills, Keweenaw Bay and Saginaw Chippewa with the establishment of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, Inc. in 1966.

In 1975, they opened their own K-8 tribal school, via a grant from the American Bicentennial Commission for a “community arts and crafts building”. It is known as a K-12 BIA funded tribal grant and Michigan Charter Public School Academy, and is housed in a beautiful state-of-the-art educational complex. The school and the welfare of the community children, continues to be the heartbeat of the Hannahville Potawatomi.

In the early 1990s they signed a gaming compact with the Governor of the State of Michigan and open a casino. It has evolved into the new Chip-In Casino/Hotel/Resort. The gaming operations in this rural, high unemployment area of Michigan, has proven to be a major industry and economic boom to the region for both the Native and non-native communities.

Today, Hannahville has a host of new tribal facilities and membership services. They now possess the financial wherewithal to regularly interact with their other Potawatomi band relatives and has ignited their cultural-language-spirituality renewal.

The people are quiet for the most part, but have a can-do attitude when they plan for their future and usually reach their goals. Substance abuse is still a major problem as well as other social maladies, despite the recent financial success. However, it takes a long time and a great deal of hard work to overcome historic trauma, cultural denial and a lost sense of identity’s, community and purpose. They are in the midst of their grieving, letting go and healing the whole community and person initiatives.

The sacred fires are burning bright and are being well maintained with the Hannahville Potawatomi. Their quiet can-do attitude, fortitude and strong, steady tribal leadership, continues to be an inspiration to other Anishnabek tribal communities.