The Potawatomi (Sometimes spelled ‘Pottawatami’ or ‘Pottawatomie’) Indians are also known as ‘The Fire Nation’ because their name in Algonquian means “people of the place of fire” or “Keepers of the fire”. The ancient home of the tribe was the lower Peninsula of Michigan but in the late 17th century they were driven to Door County near present day Green Bay Wisconsin. Later in the 1700s the Potawatomi spread into northern Illinois across the tributaries of the Illinois River and into both northern and as far as southern Michigan toward Detroit. After Iroquois invasions they migrated south toward the Chicago area. Their villages were usually situated on the edge of forests adjacent to prairies, lakes and rivers. By the beginning of the 18th century the Potawatomi were in full possession of the head of Lake Michigan, from the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin to Grand River in Michigan, a large part of northern Illinois, east across Michigan to Lake Erie….and even much further south into Indiana to the Wabash and Pine Creek.
The name Illinois is a French adaptation of the tribe’s word for “people”. It was taken for the name of a river, and then for the name of a territory—the Illinois Territory—which, in 1818, became a state. Although few Illinois Indians remain in their original homeland, the name of the state is a monument to their once commanding presence and their proud heritage.
The Chippewa, the Potawatomi and the Ottawa formed the Council of Three Tribes. The Ottawa controlled the northern reaches of Lake Huron. The Ottawa lived like other Great Lakes Algonquians—surviving through a combination of hunting in the forests, fishing in the lakes and rivers, gathering wild rice in the marshes, and when conditions allowed, planting crops in cultivated fields.
The Chippewa (Ojibway) were one of the largest and most powerful tribes in North America. They inhabited the western Great Lakes, especially around Lake Superior. Their population was estimated over 100,000. When they migrated to the region, before the arrival of Whites, the Chippewas were supposedly one people with the Ottawa and Potawatomi.
The specific tribe bearing the name Miami, lived in southern Great Lakes country, especially the area south of Lake Michigan, which is now Indiana and western Ohio. They sewed elm bark or mats of woven plant materials to cover their houses of various shapes. They lived along timbered river valleys and shared many of the cultural traits of other Northeast Woodland Algonquians. But their main home territory centered around what is Fort Wayne, Indiana.
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