The Seven Generation River

In this new half-hour documentary, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Bureau continues to explore the political, social and environmental issues surrounding our most precious natural resource – water.

Water is sacred to the the Pokagon; they are intimately tied to the lakes, rivers and streams that run through tribal lands. Unlike many Native American tribes, The Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians were never removed from their ancestral lands, but they saw their environment and way of life fractured over time.

Photo courtesy of The Seven Generation River Documentary

Industrial Machinery

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the Pokagon’s lands were sold. The new, European landowners altered the paths of rivers and streams where the Pokagon hunted and fished for centuries, and they cleared habitats to support Western-style agriculture. Culturally important plants and animals were pushed aside, and the Pokagon culture began to fade away. For the Pokagon, culture and the environment are not separate; if one suffers, so does the other.

A small group of tribal citizens fought for decades to keep traditional ways alive. When the US Federal government recognized the Pokagon as a sovereign tribal nation in the early 1990s, the tribe launched a series of cultural preservation and environmental restoration efforts. They are now actively working to restore with traditional arts, their language and ways of life, while creating new traditions like a yearly Water Walk to inspire tribal citizens to protect and preserve waterways for the next seven generations.

Pokagon Women’s Water Walk

The Pokagon Band has also begun a major effort to set rivers and streams back on their natural course, and to improve the habitats that surround them. It’s a major cultural preservation and environmental restoration effort. Their goal is to reconnect their citizens to their environment, and bring back traditional ways of hunting, fishing and growing food.

For now, the Pokagon’s waters are recovering, traditions are returning, and there is hope for the next seven generations.

The Seven Generation River is made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Michigan Humanities Council. Funding is also provided by Vision Maker Media and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.