The Story of the Three Fires
Gary Mitchell, Prairie Band of Potawatomi
Potawatomi tradition states that the Odawa, Ojibawas, and the Potawatomi originally were one tribe. The members of the "Three fires" shared a similar way of life. They called the "Three brothers," with the Potawatomis being considered the younger brother.
A Potawatomi legend said the tribes braided three trees together to signify their brotherhood. It is said that this tree has grown together over the years and is full-grown today in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
Loyalties between the three tribes ran deep, and they often came to each-other's defense in times of war, much like a brother would come to the aid of another in a fight. So it is the history that this coalition was solidified over thirty years. Coalitions such as this were to become an essential element to the tribe's social fabric throughout the early years and were to serve the tribe well in those times. In the years of prolonged conflict, territorial expansion and other common goals of advancement, these coalitions, were absolutely necessary and utilized to their benefit.
Still another aspect to this coalition was that the Potawatomi, Odawa, Ojibwas enjoyed a particularly close trade relationship. each tribe had a certain function to keep the alliance strong. The Odawa were the "Trader People" responsible for providing food and supplies. The Ojibwas were the keepers of the faith and kept the sacred teachings. The Potawatomi were in charge of the ceremonial fire burning. It was around this fire that nationsa came together in peace and made decisions regarding the welfare of all people.
All three groups spoke related languages that linguists classify as part of the Algonquin tongues. It was said this language could carry an Indian traveler across more than a thousand miles from east to the west in the Great Lakes, and they could understand the other tribes to get by and to manage.
In time, the coalition with the Odawa and Ojibwas ended the Potawatomi went out on their own and built, a new "fire," which in Indian par lance means to set up as an independent tribe. The Potawatomi (People of the place of the Fire) may thus owe their name to these circumstances. Yet remnants of the tribes had interwoven over the years, which is why the tribes still retain much of the same characteristics and language today, despite being located in vastly different locations.