Native American Heritage Month
by: Jerzee Kurek, Felecity Best, and Logan Perry
The Native Americans spoke more than 300 languages across the United States. Many of those Native American languages have disappeared due to Ulysses S. Grant and his assimilation policies. These assimilation policies robbed the Native Americans of their culture and prevented future generations from having a deeply rooted connection to their ancestors.
In 1990, the Native American Language Act was passed by Congress. This act was created to "promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 169 Native languages spoken in the United States today. Of the 169 languages, all but two are in danger of disappearing.
574 tribes within the United States are federally recognized. In Alaska, there are 229 tribes. This is the most of any state. California has the second-largest number of recognized tribes. There are 109 tribes in California. They also have the largest population of Native Americans in the country. If a tribe is not federally recognized, unfortunately, they are ineligible for government support and programs.
Native Americans Cultivated Crops
Squash, tomatoes, corn, beans, and potatoes were grown by Native Americans. Corn was grown here thousands of years before any settlers arrived in North America.
The Indian Relocation Act
Before colonization, Native Americans lived all over the United States, but in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. According to the Library of Congress, "The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders." This act forced Native Americans from their land.
The History of Portage and the Tribes That Called it Home
According to the Portage Historical Society, our area was home to two tribes- the Miami and the Potawatomi. In Portage, there is evidence of one Native American settlement. This settlement would have been found north of Crisman Road near Route 20. A burial site was also found near Route 249 and Route 20. The main settlement of the area's Potawatomi Tribe is believed to have been in the Garyton area of Portage in the early 1800s.
Chief Pokagon was their leader. Not a lot is known about him. What is known about him comes from the oral history that was passed down within the tribe.
The Potawatomi Tribe lived along the shores of Lake Michigan. In the summer, they lived in farming villages. In the fall and winter, they broke into smaller groups and went to their hunting grounds. They lived in wickiups which are bark-covered, dome-shaped structures. The Potawatomi diet consisted of bison, deer, fish, corn, beans, squash, berries, seeds, roots, and wild rice.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced most of the Potawatomi to move west. In 1833, Pokagon found a way to keep the Pokagon Band on their ancestral land. Pokagon was able to arrange a revision to the 1833 Treaty of Chicago. This allowed Pokagon's Band to remain on the land of their ancestors in Michigan.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians can be found in southwestern Michigan and northeastern Indiana. It is a federally recognized tribe.
The Miami also spelled Myaamia, Tribe lived in what is now the Midwest. This tribe could be found in northern Indiana, but also parts of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.
The Miami built their villages in river valleys, and their homes were built with wooden poles covered with bark. Their diet consisted of corn, squash, beans, pumpkins, and melons. After the yearly harvest, the Miami would leave their villages to go hunt bison.
Portage means the carrying of a boat or goods between two navigable waters. It is believed that our city was an area that the Miami and Potawatomi tribes would walk across to travel from one body of water to another.
Portage Indian Mascot
Our school’s mascot represents history and bravery. We use it with the utmost respect. Using this mascot is a big responsibility. When our current mascot was created, our school district made sure that it was free of offensive stereotypes. It was also important to our school district that the mascot honored the tribes of our region.
Larry Jandreau of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, a former PHS student, gifted our school the blanket, seen here, as a symbol of tribal sovereignty. In his letter, Jandreau thanked our school district for instilling values that aligned with his tribal values. The blanket and the letter are displayed at the high school as a reminder to us to always uphold these tribal values. We are all honored by the gift.
How We Are Honoring Native American Heritage Month
The 6th graders studied the Potowatomi's foraging habits while they traveled and lived in our area.
Students in 8th grade studied the Kickapoo. The students learned about, and built, Kickapoo houses.