While the Potawatomi Indians have lived in the Great Lakes region for hundreds of years, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians’ Department of Natural Resources was only established in 2010 with the hiring of a director and the creation of three divisions: Planning, Natural Resources and Conservation, and Environmental Quality.
“We’re a young division here,” said Grant Poole, the department’s water quality specialist.
The department is currently assessing the conditions of the water resources on several properties the tribe owns across southwest Michigan and northern Indiana.
“Each one of those properties has creeks, rivers, or lakes on it, and my job is to monitor them and make sure they’re meeting water quality standards, plus provide an overall assessment of the conditions,” said Poole, who has worked for the U.S. Geologic Survey, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Mich. before coming to the Pokagon Band in 2011.
Baseline monitoring for biological, chemical, and physical conditions has so far consisted of point sampling throughout the year. Poole uses a Sontek FlowTracker for discharge measurements and a Eureka multiprobe for other parameters. He’s also collected macroinvertebrate and nutrient water samples.
This spring and summer the program will expand with the installation of several Solinst Levelogger Juniors to implement continuous monitoring. The Leveloggers continuously measure temperature and surface water levels at frequent intervals throughout their deployment.
One of the most significant water bodies under the tribe’s watch is the Dowagiac River. The sandy, loamy soils that dominate the Dowagiac watershed are permeable, which allows precipitation to easily recharge the basin’s groundwater. As a result, high groundwater contributions along much of the Dowagiac River’s length provide cold temperatures and steady base flow throughout the summer season.
“It’s kind of unique because it’s one of the more southern coldwater streams in Michigan,” Poole said.
In the long term, the tribe will have the option of applying to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to acquire authority to administer certain sections of the federal Clean Water Act on its properties, Poole said.
The importance of water quality goes well beyond the tribe’s administration and regulatory roles. Water also plays a role in their cultural traditions, according to Andrea Jackson, a cultural associate in the tribe’s Department of Language and Culture.
“We all have to have water to sustain us, the women are in charge of that here,” she said. “We take ownership of it.”
Women are responsible for feasting the water, a custom in which a mixture of ground Indian corn, homemade maple syrup and strawberries is spooned into the water during ceremonies.
“We feast it to honor the water and honor the spirits in the water,” Jackson said. “The ladies sing their songs and say prayers for it.”