Member of an American Indian people who originated in the Michigan region, but had migrated to Wisconsin by 1670, moving south into Illinois and Indiana in the late 17th century. They are related to the Chippewa and Ottawa, sharing Algonquian language traditions. Originally hunter-gatherers, they later learned farming as they moved south. Religion was centred around the Midewiwin, or ‘Grand Medicine Society’, whose members performed healing ceremonies. The Potawatomi traded with the French, but were hostile towards other white settlers. Eventually dispersed into smaller groups, Potawatomi now live in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan, USA; and Ontario, Canada. Their US population numbers some 15,800 (2000).
As hunter-gatherers the Potawatomi subsisted on fish, game, wild rice, and berries, as well as maple syrup, and used birch-bark canoes on the lakes and rivers. However by the 17th century they were growing maize (corn), beans, and squash (pumpkins), as well as medicinal herbs. Women tended the fields, while the men kept their role as hunters and warriors. They lived in villages of framed, brush-covered houses in the summer, and separated into family hunting groups in the winter, when they used domed wigwams. In the late 18th century they acquired horses, and used them for buffalo hunting on the plains of Illinois and Indiana.
The Potawatomi joined other northeast Indian peoples in resisting English settlement, participating in battles such as Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), fought under the Ottawa chief Pontiac. By 1769 they had regained much of their original territory in Michigan, but only temporarily. They sided with the British against the USA during the American Revolution, taking part in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1895, and during the War of 1812. Defeat in war and displacement resulted in their break-up and dispersal.