Low – Potawatomi Clan Identity

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Before European contact, clan identity was important. And what I’ve been told from my elders is that the first thing that upon meeting a stranger, they want to know what clan you were from (Anishkadoden). And I was Turtle Clan, I am Turtle Clan. And that would have been the first thing that somebody would have asked me, was not my name. They would have asked me “What clan are you from?” And they tell a lot [about you] from what your clan is. And then they’d want to know what location you’re from, you know, St. Joseph River Valley. “Well, ok, that says a lot about you.” And then they would have this whole litany of questions and then ultimately they might ask you your name. Clan identities were very important.

Also [it] reflects how fluid these villages were, and these communities and how people traveled a lot, which is not a stereotype. I think, that gets taught to children today, non-Natives today, they think of people being in these set little villages. Actually [these were] very fluid and migratory communities, moving a lot, and sharing a lot: knowledge and ideas and world views and sensibilities and histories. And so, clan was very important.

As with many tribes, the Bear Clan traditionally were the keepers of the peace in the village, the community. And if, it’s always dangerous to generalize, but most Bear Clan members that I know are built like refrigerators and you don’t want to mess with them. And so, the Loon and the Crane Clan, those are orators [and] they speak with clear voices. The Turtle Clan, we’re supposed to be the wise ones. As my grandmother always said, also the good looking ones, but I don’t hear other people say that. Anyway, the wise ones and we pass on knowledge. And so it goes. The clans had responsibilities not just to their members, but each was a part of the puzzle that made up the village and filled the role that was important. I didn’t know I was Turtle Clan when I was five years old and I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I found out later that I was Turtle Clan, but I think that I come from a long, [that] from the beginning of time I’m descended from a turtle.

My name is John Low and I’m an enrolled member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indian Nation. I was born in Niles, Michigan, near the tribal headquarters in Dowagiac. And I grew up in that community, I [was] raised by my grandmother and my mother, who were Potawatomi. I am a lawyer. Graduated from University of Michigan Law School in 1981. I returned home at the request of my elders and also because of my own sense of responsibility and desire to return home and work in a small town practice and also work as a tribal attorney on behalf of the community and did so. And worked on the process along with many, many, many others who did more work than me on the federal recognition process, which was finally successful in 1994. Since 1994, I’m a co-author of our tribal constitution. Since 1994, I’ve served on tribal council, I’ve served on several committees for the tribe, including the Traditions and Repatriation Committee and the Economic Development Committee as a coauthor of the tribal constitution. I also subsequently took a leave of absence from practicing law and returned to school. First to get a second B.A. in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and then a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago in the Social Sciences and now am completing a PhD in Cultural Studies at the University of Michigan in American culture. Currently, I’m employed as a visiting professor [in the American [Indian] Studies program] at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I live in Chicago and visit often with my relatives and my friends and with my community in Michigan. While I was at the University of Michigan, I also earned a graduate certificate in Museum Studies, which worked well with my subjects that I’m studying for my dissertation, but it also led to employment. I became the Executive Director at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, which I served as that director for about almost two years, the Mitchell Museum being located in Evanston, Illinois, and had the opportunity to work with a lot of Native and non-Native people in both curatorial and exhibition and preservation issues.

Production credits:
Executive Producer, Loretta Fowler
Assistant Producer, Brian Mornar
Production by Mike Media Group
2009

Photo credits:
Bear – photo courtesy of GLIFWC
Loon – photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/P199
Crane – photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/FrankyBoy5
Turtle – photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/LtShears

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