What is the Citizen Potawatomi Nation?

Bethney Foster

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is a tribe of Native American people living in Oklahoma. The headquarters of the nation is in Shawnee, Oklahoma. There are nearly 27,000 enrolled members, and the tribe operates a housing authority, truck stop, and two casinos, among other enterprises. The tribe also issues its own vehicle tags.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Mission Band of Potawatomi Indians was originally located in Indiana, but the Indian Removal Act forced the people to Kansas in 1833. The Potawatomi call this forced march the Trail of Death. The Mission Potawatomi signed a treaty, sold land in Kansas, bought land in Oklahoma, and became U.S. citizens in 1867. At that time they took the name Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

A federally recognized tribe, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the largest of eight Potawatomi tribes recognized by the U.S. government and the ninth largest tribe in the country. The tribe owns one of Oklahoma’s largest grocery stores, a bank with three branches, and a golf course. In 2006, the tribe opened the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Museum and Cultural Heritage Center in Shawnee. The center houses the library and archives of the tribe in its 36,000 square feet (3,344 square meters).

The last weekend of June each year, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation hosts its Family Reunion Festival. Traditional ceremonies such as grand entry, family honors, and general council are conducted. About 5,000 members of the nation attend the three-day festivities.

The traditional language of the Potawatomi is Algonquian. The Potawatomi refer to themselves as Nishnabec, which translates to “true people.” According to legend, the name Potawatomi was given to the people by the Chippewa, and it means “people of the place of the fire.” The name was given because, according to legend, when the three tribes—the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi—were one, the Potawatomi were charged with keeping the original council fire.

The Potawatomi people grew crops and relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering before their forced removal. Festivals were held around the tapping of sugar maple trees in March of each year. They lived in wickiups, which were domed shelters framed with saplings and covered in bark.

The women of the tribe were responsible for farming, caring for children, and cooking. Crops grown included corn, squash, and tobacco. Men were hunters and warriors. Both men and women took part in storytelling, music, and traditional medicine, and the chief of the traditional Potawatomi village could be either male or female.

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