This dissertation answers two questions about the surprising resurgence of national identity among Potawatomi Indians. How has the process of national renewal worked to unite the nine Potawatomi bands that have been diasporized across Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ontario, and Michigan? Why has there been a revival of the Potawatomi Nation in recent decades after nearly two centuries of fragmentation?
Potential explanations of the renaissance in the sociological literature are inaccurate. If emergent political opportunities alone were enough to precipitate the movement then other similarly divided Native American nations should have experienced comparable revivals. However, analysis of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians, also forcibly removed by the American government during the nineteenth century, shows that these groups have not witnessed national renewals. Similarly, attributing the reemergence of the nation to the pursuit of potential casino projects obscures the particularizing effects of gaming. The practicalities of negotiating compacts and managing gaming facilities, as well as the myriad potential economic outcomes, actually amplify tribe or band-specific interests.
Drawing on archival research, interviews with community members, and ethnographic fieldwork on the Potawatomi reservations, I argue the exceptional emergence of Potawatomi nationalism is made possible by focusing on their unique culture. A group of "national brokers" used their cultural fluency, structural position, and gender to build extensive intranational networks. While doing similar work as their predecessors, contemporary brokers seized opportunities emerging from a new context to invigorate broader interest in the Nation. The brokers and band leaders also created innovative new events, particularly language revitalization collaborations and an annual national gathering. Events educate people about cultural norms and history, elaborate interpersonal relationships, and encourage people to think nationally.
The Potawatomi national renaissance should be regarded as a rejection of the arbitrary, colonial imposition of bands by the state as the Potawatomi are actively embracing a broad sense of community that encompasses all Potawatomi people. This way of envisioning the collective has become possible as a result of shifting federal Indian policies, changes emerging from critical social movements in the second half of the twentieth century, demographic changes in Native America.