As part of our recognition of Native American Heritage Month, a group of employees from 7GAE and Bodwé had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Any time we are invited to visit a Tribe, it is a special occasion, but this trip was uniquely powerful because we are wholly owned by the Pokagon Band. The work we do supports and sustains the Tribe and their economic development, and it is a privilege to be a part of that process.
During our tour, there were two primary objectives. First, it was an incredible opportunity to tour some of the buildings that our team has worked on over the years. For newer employees, that meant being guided through structures with 7GAE Vice President of Practice Steve VandenBussche at the helm, hearing about the challenges and solutions that various projects brought. For those who worked on elements of various buildings, it was an opportunity to see their handiwork in person. Even behind her mask, you could see the smile from Geselle Neal, an architectural associate, as she stood next to the desk she helped design that now stands in the Pokagon Tribal Court.
Beyond seeing the buildings themselves, this was a fantastic way to understand the goals of the Pokagon Band and how our work at 7GAE and the Bodwé Group helps them sustain their culture and their economy. Rather than just reading about how our work impacts the Pokagon Band, we were given a chance to physically spend time in the spaces dedicated to family gatherings, community events, teaching the Potawatomi language, and providing areas for peacemaking and Native justice.
Our first stop of the day was the Community Center, a large facility designed as a community hub and a gathering space for the Pokagon Band and their loved ones. Acoustic panels hanging from the ceiling served the practical purpose of mitigating background noise and echo in a large space; by taking on the abstract shape of a turtle, they reflect Pokagon culture at the same time. The same turtle shape was echoed on the tiles of the floor directly underneath the acoustic panels. The Community Center is also home to the Wall of Honor, where framed photos of Pokagon Veterans remind us all of the sacrifices so many Native men and women make to protect our country.
Next, we drove through some of the community and elder housing for the Pokagon Band. As we drove along streets named Nishnabe Myewen and Kekyajek Odanek, we saw clusters of homes designed specifically for citizens of the Pokagon Band. Our guide shared that the Pokagon Band cares for its elders in various ways, including managing snow removal and lawn maintenance. Throughout the day, signs reserving parking spaces and seating for elders impressed upon our group the value of supporting those who retain the most cultural knowledge and traditional lifeways.
As we drove, we looked out the windows to see tall prairie grasses undulating like waves in the autumn wind. These grasses are part of the master planning efforts for the Pokagon Band, and prescribed burns follow Indigenous knowledge to protect the area from damaging fires. Even when you’re at the entrance to some of the larger community buildings, the prairie grasses hide parked cars, allowing you to look out over the unobstructed landscape. You won’t find any gutters and curbs in the community, as it was engineered to handle stormwater effectively with a more natural approach. Bioswales move runoff away from buildings and roads without impeding the landscape and while mimicking the natural, organic forms of the land.
We toured the Tribal Police Station at the Government Center Complex, designed by 7GAE, and the adjacent Tribal Court and Peacemaking Center. Our team recently produced a short film highlighting the significance of Native Justice and the peacemaking process that included footage of the court and interviews with Chief Judge Michael Petoskey. While most of our team is very familiar with the building, visiting in person was a completely different experience. Seeing the copper hood that pulls smoke out of the circular peacemaking space and admiring the scale of the wooden beams from Whole Trees that support the exterior pavilion offers a perspective that is hard to replicate on camera, although many of us tried.
Next, we had the opportunity to walk through select portions of the Pokagon Band’s Health and Wellness Center. Seven Generations A+E designed the facility several years ago, followed more recently by the expansion, which included behavioral health offices, a cafe, and recreational space for the community.
Last on our stop, after a meandering drive through the campground, was a visit to the Pokagon Language and Culture Building. When we talk about cultural sustainability, this is one of the key elements to which we refer. When Sovereign Nations like the Pokagon Band have economic sustainability, they can build spaces like this one to sustain Native language and culture use and preservation. Exploring the building was a peek into the Pokagon culture, from the art on the walls to the artifacts on display.
More than anything, we want to say chi-miigwetch (thank you very much) to the Pokagon Band for hosting our group. Seeing the impact of the work we do day in and day out is enriching. Although the visit was an hour’s drive from our Kalamazoo offices, we are all part of the same intentional community. Many thanks to those who facilitated our tour and shared their knowledge with us!
Are you on Instagram? You can see more photos from this trip, and other 7GAE projects, by visiting us here: https://www.instagram.com/7genae/!