Years of warfare between colonizers further escalated tensions between the tribes of the Great Lakes, their Indian neighbors and settlers, because European colonial forces pressured native communities to choose sides. The Potawatomi and their Neshnabek brethren were accomplished warriors. During the fighting at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, colonial military forces sought them out as mercenaries and reached out to village leaders to form alliances. These village leaders consistently made decisions about alliances based on the potential advantages each colonial entity could provide them and their kinsmen. At this period in history the advantage an ally could provide the leaders in their regional struggle to gain territory and dominance over ancient and new enemies was the most important for survival.
The winners and losers in these battles eventually came together to determine the post-war terms of their relationships. The Constitution dictated that the federal government, not those of states or municipalities, had the authority to negotiate treaties with tribal governments. The prevalence of violence and hunger for tribal land that followed the American Revolution resulted in the U.S. entering into more than 200 peace and land cession treaties with tribes in the first few decades of the new nation’s independence. The Potawatomi were signatories to more treaties with the United States than any other tribe. Despite signing more than 40 treaties during this time, the period between 1700 and 1900 was a time of conflict and removal for the Potawatomi people. Between war and forced removal these years were a dark time for Potawatomi people and culture.
When Potawatomi headmen and other leaders signed treaties they often drew a symbol that represented their name and signified their respective clan, indicating that they were acting as communal delegates. Huron and St. Joseph Potawatomi signatures from the 1795 Treaty of Greenville illustrate numerous and various clan representatives from the Mko [Bear], Pneshi [Bird], Gigo [Fish] and Kche Gami [Great Sea] clans. The X is a European signature mark.
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