Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


Go back to previous page Return to table of contents

The veterans of the Vietnam conflict returned to the Potawatomi Reservation in the late 1960s and early 1970s to find very little had changed in their absence.

Politics remained the same. Political factions were still evident and, if anything, were more rampant and intense than before.

This didn't stray far from the norm in tribal politics, but this time the price was much higher.

Poverty on the reservation was in a similar condition as when the veterans had left and it too had worsened. The reservation was a classic example of how the wartime expenditures had affected the domestic program of the United States.

Jane Priwer, a writer, gave a vivid description of the reservation condition in the 1970s:

"They are not in good shape today. Their reservation is a desolate place, splintered by unpaved, muddy roads and inhabited by only a few of the oldest and poorest members of the tribe. The rest are in the cities. Average income is about $2,500 a year, unemployment around 50 per cent and the high school drop-out rate 44 per cent."

In addition, the tribal government had a $6,450 budget for the year of 1972. This low sum was supposed to be enough to govern the affairs of the tribe.

All of these financial figures translated into a period of abject poverty for the tribe, but not much different than the rest of the country.

The United States and the reservation were all feeling the backlash of Vietnam, a war that cost $150 billion.

While this analysis of the tribal financial condition was true, the reservation was home and, as so many times in the past, the tribal members made the best of the situation.

Tribal members worked in the surrounding towns and cities in construction fields, packing houses, garden nurseries and whatever temporary employment was available.

In some family situations, as many as 12 children lived in a small four-room house with no running water. But those homes were relatively happy, and food was always available.

It was a dire necessity for the children to leave home at an early age, so it was not uncommon for young people to get married at the ages of 18 or 19 and move into apartments in the surrounding towns and cities like Holton or Topeka.

Marriages usually lasted a long time simply because there was no room back home if it didn't work out.

Potawatomis learned self-sufficiency at a young age because of the economics of the times. But the reservation was always home, and young couples often came home to visit or to attend social events.

Grim statistics showed the Potawatomi had a death rate about twice as high as the state average and a birth rate three times the state average as well as an infant mortality rate two times the average during this period.

Dr. Patricia Schlosser who worked in the children's clinic in Holton noted how the infant mortality rate is one of the most sensitive indexes of the general health of a people. Another physician who worked with the tribe said the Indian life expectancy was only 43 years of age, a figure in sharp contrast to the United States average of 68 to 70. He said many Indians in the area had major nutrition problems.

Elizabeth Munoz stated, "Indians have every problem that the ethnic and low income person has plus their own cultural problems, including a sense of pride. It's harder in many cases to admit they do need help.

In order to bring attention to the social problems of the nation, groups such as the civil rights movement, the women's liberation groups, and in the Indian case the American Indian Movement emerged.

These groups collectively lobbied for a massive change in the status quo.

They were no longer satisfied with the way America handled its racial policies and hiring practices, and demanded a change in the overall social fabric of the country. And it worked.

America woke up and change did happen.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, August 3, 1995

Go back to index - - 39 - - Go on to next page

Return to: Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe Language
A Kansas History & Kansas Heritage Group site.