Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians

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Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians
Total population
5,000 +
Regions with significant populations
Michigan & Indiana
English, Potawatomi
Christianity Roman Catholic, traditional tribal religion

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians are a federally recognized Potawatomi-speaking tribe based in southwestern Michigan and northeastern Indiana. Tribal government functions are located in Dowagiac, Michigan. The tribal membership was approximately 4,990 members as of 2014. They occupy reservation lands in a total of ten counties in the area.

The Potawatomi originated as a people along the Atlantic coastline at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Over centuries, along with the Ojibwe and Odawa Anishinaabe peoples, they migrated west to the Great Lakes region some 500–800 years ago in a "Great Migration."

The Pokagon are descendants of the residents of allied Potawatomi villages that were historically located along the St. Joseph, Paw Paw and Kalamazoo rivers in what are now southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. They were the only Potawatomi band to gain permission from the United States government to remain in Michigan after Indian removal in the 1830s. Many of the cities and streets in the Michigan area have adopted Potawatomi names. The tribe has been federally recognized since 1994 legislation affirmed its status; it has established self-government.


The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians were party to 11 treaties with the federal government, with the major land cession being under the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. During the Indian removals, many Potawatomi bands were moved west. But, Chief Leopold Pokagon negotiated to keep his Potawatomi band of 280 people in southwestern Michigan. They were the only Potawatomi band who did not remove west of the Mississippi River.

Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Pokagon Band wanted to restore self-government and requested recognition as a tribe by the Department of the Interior, but were denied because of conditions of their treaties and the legislation. After years of petitioning, the Pokagon Band regained recognition in 1994 through legislation affirming their status.[1][2]


As a federally recognized tribe, the Pokagon Band were able to develop and open in 2007 the Four Winds New Buffalo casino on the Pokagon Reservation. It is located at (41°46′38″N 86°42′50″W / 41.77722°N 86.71389°W / 41.77722; -86.71389), in New Buffalo Township, near New Buffalo, Michigan. The casino is operated in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and a compact with Michigan. It expanded in 2011 due to its success.[3] The Chicago Tribune reported that if the casino were on the Las Vegas Strip, it would be the second largest there.[4]

Architecturally the casino's rotunda is built in the style of the Potawatomi people's traditional lodges. A second, satellite casino, Four Winds Hartford, opened on August 30, 2011 in Hartford, Michigan.[5] The tribe opened a third, Four Winds Dowagiac,[6] on April 30, 2013 in Dowagiac, Michigan.[7][8] The band has been limited to three casinos by its 2008 compact with the state of Michigan. The tribe has recently proposed to construct a $480 million casino [9] project on lands near South Bend, Indiana, which it claims qualify for gaming pursuant to specific provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The tribe has invested revenues from gaming in building needed housing and plans a community center. In a competition for federal stimulus funds, the Pokagon were granted $2 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a planned community center at their tribal center in Dowagiac. The 8500-square foot building has been designed to satisfy Silver LEED standards, and incorporates a number of innovations to reduce its energy use and create a sustainable building: including a green roof, thick concrete flooring to act as a heat sink, windows to the south to gain winter sun and heat, and geothermal systems.

The tribe announced plans in 2012 to build a 164-acre "tribal village" on its lands near South Bend, Indiana. This complex will include housing, healthcare, and government facilities for tribal members. In addition, it will build a casino and hotel to generate revenue for its operations.[10]

A decreasing number of elders among the Potawatomi bands speak the language, but the Pokagon are participating in a program to restore teaching and use of the language.

Tribal government

Members of the tribal council, including the chairman, are elected by members of the tribe. By their positions, they also serve as members of the Pokagon Gaming Authority.[11]

Current Tribal Council

  • Matthew Wesaw – Chairman
  • Bob Moody – Vice Chairman
  • Alex Wesaw - Treasurer
  • Kelly Curran- Secretary
  • Andrea Jackson - member at large
  • Gary Morseau - member at large
  • Becky Price - member at large
  • Steve Winchester - member at large
  • Colin Wesaw - Elder Representative

Tribal Court

The Tribal Judiciary is a separate and independent branch of the Pokagon Band government. The Tribal Court Judiciary consists of the Chief Judge, one Associate Judge, and three Appellate Court Justices. All members of the Judiciary are appointed by the Tribal Council to serve staggered four (4)-year terms.[12]

Current and former Tribal Court Judges/Justices

  • Chief Judge Michael Petoskey
  • Associate Judge David M. Peterson
  • Chief Justice Robert T. Anderson
  • Associate Justice Matthew L.M. Fletcher
  • Associate Justice Jill E. Tompkins

Tribal Police

The Pokagon Tribal Police Department was established in 2003 to provide direct law enforcement services to the tribal members and visitors in the ten-county tribal geographic boundaries in Michigan and Indiana.[13] The Pokagon Tribal Police Department is a full-service police department, servicing all areas within the Tribe's jurisdiction. The Tribal Police are charged with enforcing federal, state, and local laws, including the Pokagon Band Code of Offenses.[14]

Current and former Tribal Police Captains and Chiefs of Police

  • Chief William V. Lux, 2015–present
  • Captain Chris VanCompernolle, 2011–2014
  • Captain Rachel A. Sadowski-Spiegel, 2008 – 2011
  • Captain Mike Jungel, 2003 – 2008

Gaming Commission

The Tribe established the Pokagon Band Gaming Commission in 2007 as an independent subdivision. The Gaming Commission regulates all gaming conducted within Pokagon Band jurisdiction under the Gaming Regulatory Act, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the tribal-state Gaming Compact between the Band and the State of Michigan.[15]

Current and former commissioners

  • Chairman Bruce V. Molnar, 2008–Present
  • Vice Chairman Richard J. Klemm 2013–Present
  • Commissioner Cassie Alley 2015-Present

  • Chairman Steve DuCharme, 2007–2013
  • Commissioner Thomas R. Russell, 2007-2015
  • Vice Chairman Bobby Siller, 2007–2008

See also


  1. ^ United States Pub.L. 103-323
  2. ^ Mumford, Lou (23 September 2011). "Events Today, Saturday Celebrate Sovereignty". South Bend Tribune. southbendtribune.com. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  3. ^ Tom Moor (1 July 2011). "Four Winds Casino expanding". South Bend Tribune. southbendtribune.com. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  4. ^ Lauren Viera (25 November 2007). "New Buffalo casino brings a crowd to Harbor Country". Chicago Tribune. Turtle Talk. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  5. ^ Lersten, Andrew (29 December 2011). "Pokagon hold 'em in Hartford Township". The Herald-Palladium. heraldpalladium.com. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  6. ^ Haight, Debra (15 June 2012). "Pokagons Get the Green Light for Dowagiac Casino". The Herald-Palladium. heraldpalladium.com. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  7. ^ Jones, Al (2013-04-30). "Four Winds Casino Dowagiac is Launched: What Do You Think?". MLive.com. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
  8. ^ Haight, Debra (2013-05-01). "Third Four Winds Casino Opens in Dowagiac". Harbor Country News. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
  9. ^ Whittlesey, Dennis J. (9 May 2015). "Should There be a Legislative Solution to Disputed Indian Trust Applications?". The National Law Review. Dickinson Wright PLLC. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Pokagon tribe proposes casino in South Bend". Post-Tribune. Gary. AP. August 29, 2012. Archived from the original on October 12, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  11. ^ Pokagon Band of Potawatomi http://www.pokagonband-nsn.gov/government/tribal-council. Retrieved 8 October 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Tribal Courts". Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  13. ^ "Pokagon Band Tribal Police Department". Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  14. ^ "Tribal Police-Responsibilities". Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  15. ^ "Gaming Commission". Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-11.

External links

  • Official website
  • Pokagon Community Center
  • Inter-tribal Council of Michigan
  • Native Americans in Michigan Databases, Mainly Michigan website, includes "Durant Roll of 1908" and "Mt. Pleasant Indian School Register (1893 to 1932)"
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