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Potawatomi Bands and Clans:A band is based on kinship and family affiliation. A nuclear family is part of a clan (cousins), a clan is part of a band (aunts, uncles, extended cousins), and a collection of bands make up a tribe.
In Potawatomi culture, the clan name was similar to a surname in the Christian culture. The Potawatomi are organized into over 40 different clans today.These were divided into several politically independent, territorial bands that were linked by kinship and language. Numerous exogamous clans whose members traced their descent from a common ancestor through the male line were distributed among the various bands.
Although Potawatomi clans were patrilineal (meaning they traced their descent through the fatherís line), individuals were also linked to some extent to the families of their motherís father, which provided a wider network of kin to interact with and count on in times of stress.
The clans were exogamous, so individuals could not marry a person of the same clan. Upon marriage, a couple usually went to live with the husbandís family, so each summer village included a group of men and their children who were members of the same clan and members of other clans who had married members of the main clan in that village.
The intermarriages of the clans created links between different villages and these links were both reinforced and encouraged by trade and other bonds. These bonds existed not only within the Potawatomi tribe but also with nearby villages of related Ottawa and Ojibwe, whose members freely intermarried or lived with the Potawatomi.
Kin relations demanded respect between those called brothers and sisters (including parallel cousins-fatherís brotherís children and motherís sisterís children) and in-laws of the opposite sex. Joking relationships existed between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, and between nieces, nephews, uncles, and aunts. Relationships with elders were founded on the utmost respect.
In addition to the clan structure, there was also an additional division of the people which cut across families and clans to create two opposing groups based on their order of birth within the family. Within each family, the odd-numbered children, for instance first, third, and fifth, were assigned to the ďsenior side,Ē while the even-number children were in the ďjunior side.Ē These groupings operated in games such as lacrosse and in some ceremonies and rituals. Rivalries between these groups were sanctioned and were extremely competitive.
Much of Potawatomi spiritual and religious life was organized around the clans. Each clan had a sacred bundle which was the focus of oral traditions which recorded the origins of that clan. Specific songs and dances were also associated with the clan bundles, and each clan had specific ritual obligations as well and types of knowledge, such as particular medicines and ceremonies. The clan structure and the associated bundles were the gifts of the culture hero Wisaka, brought to individuals in the past through dreams or visions.
Potawatomi names were given in the first 30 days of life in accordance with the clans, the moieties, and with an understanding of what that name meant, as well as the powers that went with the name. Usually some elder was given tobacco to "dream" on a name. This meant the elder would make an offering of that tobacco and then ask for the revelation of the name in a dream or direct vision revelation to ensure the correct name was given to the child. As previously stated, the name had to go with the clan, the moiety, and the family history as well. This was one of the ways to assure correct names were given to Neshnabe children.
When a Potawatomi person receives their name, they are often also given the clan of the person doing the naming, thus it is possible to belong to two clans.
Potawatomi clans often adopted children and even adults. This was one way of getting more members for the clan. Clan members of the same clan respectfully acknowledged each other with the greeting "Aaniin Dodem."
Potawatomi Clan NamesThe Anishinabe (Ojibwe) people were once one large tribe that later split into three smaller tribes: The Ottawa (Odawa), Chippewa (Ojibwe) and the Potawatomi.
According to Anishinabeg tradition, there were originally six human beings that came out of the sea to live among the people. These six beings, which were Wawaazisii (Bullhead), Ajejauk (Crane), Makwa (Bear), Moosance (Little Moose), Waabizheshi (Marten), and Bineshii (Thunderbird), created the original clans.
One of the original beings, the Thunderbird, always covered his eyes, because when he looked at the people, they died. The other five beings urged Thunderbird to return to the sea because his powers were so strong. That is why there is no Thunderbird clan today.
Bear Clan (Mikwa dodem) - Police and Herbal Medicine People
The Bear Clan was the largest clan, so large, in fact, that it was sub-divided into body parts such as the head, the ribs and the feet. Bear Clan members were the strong and steady police and legal guardians. They were protectors of the people. Bear clan members were war chiefs and warriors and were known for their thick black hair that never whitened even in old age. Bear Clan members spent a lot of time patrolling the land surrounding the village, and in so doing, they learned which roots, bark, and plants could be used for medicines to treat the ailments of their people.
Bird Clan (Binesi or Pneshi dodem) - Spiritual Leaders
The Bird Clan represented the spiritual leaders of the people and gave the nation its vision of well-being and its highest development of the spirit. The people of the Bird Clan were said to possess the characteristics of the eagle, the head of their clan, in that they pursued the highest elevations of the mind just as the eagle pursues the highest elevations of the sky.
Black Duck (Cormorant) Clan
Black Hawk Clan
Buffalo Clan (Pkocshuke dodem)
Bullhead Catfish Clan (Wawaazisii or Wawaazisiig dodem)
Catfish Clan (Maanamegwug dodem)
Caribou Clan (Adik dodem)
Waubojeeg or White Fisher was a leader of the Caribou clan.
Crane Clan (Ajijak dodem) - Chieftainship
The meaning of Ajijak is "echo maker", derived from the word Buswawag meaning "echo". The Ajijak were known for their sharp piercing sound that carried across the lake and if you ever listen to the sound of the Crane, it is a very distinct call. Crane clan members were known for their loud and clear voices, and recognized as famous speakers.
The Crane Clan is one of the original clans and along with the the Loon Clans were given the power of Chieftainship. By working together, these two clans gave the people a balanced government with each serving as a check on the other. Some Crane people today are strong educators, singers of the drum societies, and tribal council members.
Deer Clan (Waawaashkeshi dodem) - Gentle People
Deer Clan people, were given the power to be pacifists. It is also said the Deer Clan would not use harsh words and were also known as poets and artistic people.
Bald Eagle Clan (Migizi dodem) - Spiritual Leader
The Spiritual Leaders Clan of the people, which were given the power of having a sense of knowledge of what the future would bring.
Fish Clans (Giigoo dodem) - Intellectuals
The Fish Clans claim their ancestor was the first to emerge from the sea. Today the fish clans are the Bullhead (Wawaazisiig), Sturgeon (Namewug), Catfish (Maanamegwug), Northern Pike (Ginoozheg), Whitefish (Adikameg-wug), Merman/Mermaid (Memegwesi-wug), and Sucker (Namebinug). The people of the Fish Clan were the teachers and scholars. The fish clan represented wisdom. They helped children develop skills and healthy spirits. They also drew on their knowledge to solve disputes between the leaders of the Crane and Loon Clans. The Fish people were given the power to be "star gazers." They were known for their constant pursuit of meditation and philosophy. Fish Clan people are known for a long life and baldness in old age.
Frog Clan (Ganeda dodem)
Great Lake Clan
The people of the Hoof Clan were gentle, like the deer and moose or caribou for whom the clan is named. They cared for others by making sure the community had proper housing and recreation. The Hoof Clan people were the poets and pacifists avoiding all harsh words.
Loon Clan (Maang dodem) - Chieftainship
The Loon Clan along with the the Crane Clans were given the power of Chieftainship. By working together, these two clans gave the people a balanced government with each serving as a check on the other.
Lynx Clan (Bizhiw dodem)
Marten Clan (Waabizheshi dodem) - Warriors
The people of the Marten Clan were hunters, food gathers and warriors. They became known as master strategists in planning the defense of their people. Members of the Marten (Waabi-zheshi) clan served as pipe bearers and message carriers for the chiefs. Shingoob and Nugaunub were two of the leaders of the Marten clan. The Marten clan were the survivors. They remembered everything so it wouldn't be forgotten.
Merman Clan (Memegwesi-wug dodem) - Water Spirit or Mermaid Clan
See Fish Clans
Little Moose Clan (Moosance dodem)
Northern Pike Clan (Ginoozheg dodem)
See fish clans.
See Marten Clan.
Sturgeon Clan (Namewug dodem)
Sucker Clan (Namebinug dodem)
See Fish Clans.
Turkey Clan (Msese dodem)
King of the Fish Clans.
Water People Clan
White Fish Clan (Adikameg-wug dodem)
See fish clans.
Wolf Clan (Maiingan dodem)
The Wolf clan produced teachers and scouts. Wolf clan members lived mostly around Mille Lacs and St. Croix. Nayquonabe was one of their leaders.
Today some people still follow their clan duties, but, for the most part, the original force and power of the Clan System has diminished to a degree of almost non-existence. Still, clan relationships are held in high regard and are a matter of pride and respect for Potawatomi people. Clan symbols are sometimes still used on grave headstones to mark their lineage, and clan associations are often included when Potawatomi people introduce themselves, particularly in Canada.
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