Tom Topash is on a mission. He is working on a project to help improve the knowledge of the members of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.
Topash, a retired educator, has spent most of his adult life working in different capacities for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. His current position is administrative assistant for non-casino economic development.
Topash used to be a principal in the Berrien Springs area and he also spent two years in Alaska, along with a couple of years at the Indian school in Sault Ste. Marie and five years in Niles.
Topash calls his project "Pokagon's Promise." It is named after Leopold Pokagon, who was the patriarch of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and helped negotiate a deal with the United States government so that the tribe would not be removed during he Indian Removal.
Topash says, "I think of this project as a way to encourage the human potential of the Pokagon Band descendants, it will promote individual and family development through understanding the strengths of our culture."
Topash says he hopes that the project will reverse tribal members ' assimilation into the greater society and use of the Pokagon tribes rich history will help it be on a level playing field with other Americans.
The Pokagons have always had a cooperative relationship with neighboring white settlers. Topash says, "As people learn more about the history, their sense of ownership and connectivism to the tribe will strengthen. They will then gain pride and that firm foundation will then help them have more education and opportunities."
Topash says, "We've lost many of our people in terms of culture. Assimilation worked too well, we have to boost awareness of our culture to move forward."
Topash says, "The typical young Potawatomi is not discernibly different from the major society. Our families are mixed, and I don't want to say that is a bad thing for us. But unfortunately, the move to be part of the majority has gone too far."