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How the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa Became One People

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Potawatomi oral tradition about the union of the tribes of the Three Fires, or Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa, states that at one time very long ago, these three tribes were enemies. An Ojibwe man had ten sons, and he raised them to be warriors. All died in battle. Likewise, an Ottawa and a Potawatomi man each had ten warrior sons, and they all died in the same manner. All three were left mourning the loss of their children, and each determined that there was no point in living. They wandered away from their tribes to find a place to spend their final days.

The Ojibwe man stopped to rest at the base of a beautiful tree, and he noticed that it had four great roots that spread out equally in four directions as well as one that grew straight down into the earth. He was soon joined by the Ottawa man, who was mourning the loss of his sons; subsequently, the Potawatomi man appeared, and he told the other two men about his grief, as well. They realized that fate had brought them together, and the Ojibwe man stated that it was the Great Spirit's will that they had met at that location, and that there had been too much fighting in their lives.

Together, the three men decided that they would return to their people and stop the fighting between their tribes, as it was wrong to allow their people to die. They determined that they would live in peace together, and they smoked a pipe together. The Ojibwe man called himself the "eldest brother," as he had found the tree first; the Ottawa became the second brother, as he arrived next. Finally, the Potawatomi was called the youngest brother, as he arrived after the other two men. They agreed to meet at the base of the tree in ten days, each of them bringing their tribes for a council.

Ten days later, the meeting took place, and each tribe furnished wood for a fire; it was determined that the Potawatomi people would be the keepers of the fire. They all smoked a peace pipe and determined to live in peace and friendship. The three men who had met each other created rules for the tribes to live by, and they lived in harmony and intermarried. Their bond was observed by the fire they created, which became a symbol of their union. (Courtesy of Potawatomi Oral Tradition Indian Country Wisconsin at: https://web.archive.org/web/20080725041621/http://www.mpm/edu/wirp/ICW-137.html#one.

Sue Devick, M.A.

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