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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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CPN Tribal Heritage Project Connects Threads of Generations


by Carol Cole Shawnee News Star


The handle-bar mustachioed William A. "Billy" Trousdale stares sternly out of the historical photo, taken about in 1895 holding the reins of his horse.

The photo of Pottawatomie County's first elected sheriff is an ancestor of Bob Trousdale, deputy tribal administrator of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. It's an appropriate illustration of the rich history of the 25,000-plus member Potawatomi tribe being recorded for future generations in its Tribal Heritage Project.

Chairman John A. "Rocky" Barrett Jr. calls the project one of the most exciting things he has seen happen in his 30 years as a tribal elected official.

"Have you ever wondered what your great-grandfather sounded like, or in some cases if you don't have a picture, what he looked like? What your great-grandmother would have had to say about her time and her history and what her life was like during that era when our people moved from Kansas down to Oklahoma," Barrett says, in the introduction of a film being shown at the tribe's nine regional tribal councils to encourage participation. "That would be a fascinating thing to have."

The 42 Potawatomi families who sold their land in the late 1860s to the railroads and moved to Oklahoma, sought new lives in Indian Territory, where they hoped not to be removed once again.

"We think of history as being information of the past, but today's history is really the future history of the tribe as well," says Bob Trousdale. "Our history is the community's history really, if you stop and think about it. Because the tribe was here before statehood. The tribal heritage project is reaching back in history to the ancestral families and recording that history through those 42 families."

The Tribal Heritage Project will be part of the developing 30,000-square-foot Cultural Center, planned to be built north of the tribal headquarters on Gordon Cooper Drive in Shawnee.

The first heritage project and pilot piece was done on the Amable and Mary Margaret Toupin family, ancestors of Bob Trousdale. Interviews were done with several family members to piece together the film, which is interspliced with historical photos and footage of the town of Trousdale, almost a ghost town now.

Another project under way is that of the Navarre ancestral tribal family of Linda Capps, tribal administrator, planned to be completed soon. Several other family documentaries are already in the works.

Trousdale says they try to interview as many people as possible in their travels across the country to promote the project.

"There is always one or two who are the matriarch or patriarch of the family who has all that information," he says.

Chuck Clark does the research that brings the projects together.

The documents, photos and film are recorded digitally, followed by the writing of a script. A narrator or voice over tells the story.

When they are finished, each family will have its own documentary, which can be updated and evolved as more is compiled about the family's history.

A veterans' project is interrelated to the heritage project, with four veterans' interviews completed.

"It is different in that it talks about one individual and their experience in war time," Trousdale says.

The first veteran's piece completed featured former CPN business committee member Kenneth Peltier, who served on the USS Franklin in World War II.

The new cultural center will house the tribal heritage project, a museum and meeting hall, called the "Long Room," which will seat 800 to 900 for dining or 1,000 in a theater-style configuration.

It will provide state-of-the-art technical support to reach out to the eight regional offices around the country.

"It will provide real time interconnectivity with all of our tribal members around the country who wish to be," says Jeremy Finch, CPN director of cultural resources.

Finch says it's important for tribal members to understand that the new center won't be just " a repository for dead things." His vision is to have bilingual signage throughout the center, with Potawatomi and English on each sign.

"It has everything to do with a modern, progressive, contemporary American Indian nation, which is what we pride ourselves in being," Finch says. "Do we have artifacts? Yes, we do. But we make history every day."

The cultural center will also have a computer-assisted language lab and a permanent exhibit hall to display tribal treasures illustrating the unique history of the Potawatomi.

"Potawatomis never had teepees," Finch says as an example.

But all these projects come back to one thing. Tribe is family, says Barrett.

"We hope that 100 years from now, (tribal members') grandchildren or great-grandchildren or great-great grandchildren will be able to come back and look at films of (tribal members) and see themselves," the chairman says.

Barrett says that was only one of the goals of the heritage project, however.

The other was to provide an understanding of tribal members connectivity with the tribe.

"The tribe is about family and what this film is about is capturing characteristics of your family," Barrett says.

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