In New Buffalo, Dowagiac and Hartford, the Four Winds Casinos Exhibit Native American Art with Pride

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The first decade of the twenty-first century has been a busy one for David Shannaquet. If one studies the Native American paintings displayed at the Gun Lake, Firekeepers, and the three Four Winds Casinos, Shannaquet might be the most ubiquitous. Gun Lake Casino exhibits his paintings of Sandhill Cranes, the comeback bird celebrated throughout the facility. Firekeepers has a series of portraits of elders by Shannaquet, dignified portraits that speak of tribal strength, and hint at a familiarity with Andy Warhol. The two Eagle representations at the Dowagiac Four Winds Casino depict eagles in a style that alludes to Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington.

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The Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt Pleasant has a nearby museum dedicated to Indian art– The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways, a tribally owned and operated cultural center and museum that belongs to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.   The upper levels of the Turtle Creek Casino near Traverse City has a great collection of handicrafts. It is ironic that these astounding exhibitions of Native American art are supported by the endless playing of games invented in Europe, England and Asia.

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The Four Wind Casinos make me ponder Simon Pokagon, a leader of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, who own and operate the major casino in New Buffalo and the smaller boutique casinos in Hartford and Dowagiac. Simon Pokagon won fame for delivering powerful speeches during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, rumored to be composed on birch bark. Another rumor holds that Simon Pokagon sold the land of Chicago to President Ulysses Grant not once, but twice. Say what one will about Simon Pokagon. He effectively delivered the message to the United States Government that more was due to Native Americans than trinkets, blankets, and lip service. He began a conversation that has yet to be completed today.

As I write in this house that remembers this leader, I recall a visit to the south shore of Rush Lake, north of here, one of two reported places of rest for him. High on a bluff above the waters, a simple marker marks the honored ground. However, the Daughters of the American Revolution maintain a final resting place for Simon Pokagon in a prestigious cemetery in Chicago.

-Will Juntunen

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