NEW BUFFALO MICHIGAN TRAVEL & VISITORS GUIDE

Meet the Owners of Four Winds Casino Resort

The August 2, 2007 ribbon cutting ceremony for the Four Winds Casino Resort with tribal elders of Pokagon (poh-KAY'-gun) Band of Potawatomi (pot-uh-WAH'-tuh-mee) Indians in attendance was a not only "a proud day for members of the Pokagon Band," as John Miller, Tribal Chairman and president and CEO of the Pokagon Band Gaming Authority declared, but end result of a decade-long struggle. Much like the long and winding road that welcomes visitors to the Casino's campus off I-94 at exit 1, the Tribe has faced more than its share of court battles, protests and fierce competition from nearby gaming facilities.


Tribal Chairman John Miller addresses the media and guests at the Four Winds Casino Resort ribbon cutting ceremony. Particpant, from left to right are John Warren, Butch Starrett, Matt Wesaw, Judy Winchester, John Miller, Gerald Wesaw, Tom Wesaw, Marie Mantey, Evelyn Miller, Mickey Magneson, Trudy Loeding

The Tribe now has a world class facility that has set a new standard for gaming operations in the Midwest. Before its doors even opened, nearby Blue Chip Casino updated their presence in Michigan City, Indiana to help off-set the anticipated competition from the Four Winds Casino Resort . Coincidentally, on the same day the New Buffalo casino opened its doors, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe leaders announced plans for a huge expansion of its Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort and a nearby hotel. Described as "a Disney-esque expansion of epic proportions," preliminary plans call for expanding the hotel and casino, adding a water park, a theme park, indoor ski and skating area, bowling center, theaters and a retail stores.

There is more than a bit of irony in all this. Consider these facts:
The Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi owe much to two men in their past. Chief Leopold Pokagon, from whom the Pokagon Band takes its name and his son, Simon. Little is known about the elder Pokagon. The place and date of his birth are not known exactly, but he was probably born about 1775 near Bertrand, Michigan.

From Jesuit letters of the time, it was known that Leopold Pokagon was a forceful advocate of peace and a great orator who worked diligently to keep his people out of war with white settlers.

Leopold Pokagon The Potawatomi of this area had been influenced by Roman Catholicism dating back to the 1670s when Father Marquette first visited. The Pokagon found sponsorship among Catholic missionaries who were seeking to re-establish the long-abandoned French Catholic mission on the St. Joseph River. Among these men was Father Stephen Theodore Badin who maintained a mission near the site of today's Notre Dame University. Badin had great respect Pokagon and the relationship between the men would prove to be a critical factor in the Pokagon's future.

In the late 1820s Chief Leopold Pokagon was forced to sell over a million acres of tribal land to the United States government at a price of three cents an acre. The area of of land sold surrounded southern Lake Michigan included the area of Chicago where the State Street bridge spans the river. Despite the fact the Potawatomi were being run off their land, Pokagon maintained friendly relations with white settlers.

By 1838 the tribe ony owned 874 acres on Silver Creek, near Dowagiac, and this is where they resettled.

In 1840 the Pokagon obtained from Judge Epaphroditus Ranson, then an associate judge of the Michigan State Supreme Court, an opinion stating that as Christian, land-owning farmers, the Catholic Potawatomi were protected from forcible relocation by rights found in Michigan law. By way of Father Badin's influence and General Brady's acceptance of the court ruling, an amendment was made to the Treaty of Chicago (1833) which allowed the Pokagon Band to remain on the land of their fathers while almost all the rest of the Potawatomi people were removed west of the Mississippi.

Chief Leopold Pokagon died in 1841 in Cass County, Michigan. The Potawatomi lost their best friend as well as their chief. They no longer had anyone to advise them on the complexities of the treaties and no leader to help them secure their rights since the Government had not paid the Potawatomi as agreed.

Simon Pokagon Soon after Leopold's death, his son Simon was sent by Catholic priests to the newly founded Notre Dame school for four or five years. Later he entered Oberlin College and then Twinsburg Institute in Ohio. When Simon Pokagon returned from school, he became his tribe's Chief. Seeing the poverty of his tribe, he made it a priority to secure some degree of justice for his people. He made several trips to Washington to try to persuade the United States government to pay the claims of his people for the sale of their land. His claims were just, and he had all the necessary legal documents to prove it, but his pleas went unheard. Pokagon was persistent however and finally, under the Lincoln presidency, had his tribe's case reviewed and part of the money paid. It was not until 1896 however, before President Cleveland took the matter up that Potawatomi Indians received the money for the sale of their land.

Chief Simon Pokagon was an articulate man familiar with the classic languages of "Latin" and "Greek" from his studies, and he earned a great deal of respect in society. In fact he became known as the best-educated full-blooded Indian in North America and was called "the Redskin Bard," "the Longfellow of his Race."

Chief Simon Pokagon died a poor farmer in Southwest Michigan in January, 1899 survived by his son Charlie and his wife.

His descendents will fare much better financially thanks to the New Buffalo casino. Funds generated Four Winds Casino Resort will directly impact the Pokagon community through some form of revenue sharing. In addition, a percentage of profits will be donated to a Michigan non-profit corporation, The Pokagon Fund. The mission of The Pokagon Fund is to benefit communities surrounding Pokagon Band trust land, where the Band is now conducting Class 3 gaming as defined in the Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), and the New Buffalo region. Contributions can be made to support government, charities, school districts, non-profit and non-governmental organizations.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians' sovereignty was reaffirmed under legislation signed into law by President Clinton in September of 1994. The Pokagon Band is dedicated to providing community development initiatives such as housing, education, family services, medical care and cultural preservation for its approximately 5,000 citizens. The Tribe's ten county service area includes four counties in Southwestern Michigan and six in Northwestern Indiana. The Tribe's administrative offices are located in Dowagiac, Michigan. More information is available at www.pokagonband-nsn.gov.