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I’m not sure if you all know this, but I’ve been a freelance photographer for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe for the past year. It’s been a really amazing experience and it’s a really fun way to learn about the Tribe’s culture. Well, this past weekend I got to learn even more when I photographed my first traditional Potawatomi Wedding! I am so excited to share these photos with you and I’m going to do my best to describe the different parts of the ceremony… so here it goes!
First, a little background on Michaelina (Micky) and Matt. These two met a little over a year ago after Matt had just gotten back from Afghanistan. He was needing a date to the Marine Ball and Micky ‘volunteered’ to go with him… a year later they were married! Micky and Matt officially got married this past December in Las Vegas, but they also wanted to honor their heritage by having a traditional Potawatomi wedding with their families and friends… so that’s what they did this past weekend.
Note: Below this post are the photos of the ceremony and this is my understanding of the traditions included. If I misinterpreted something, please let me know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Okay, so now onto the ceremony…
Drummer and Groom’s Entrance:
The ceremony started with a drummer playing a hand drum and singing an honor song that the groom and his helpers danced out to. Hand drums and singing are a used as a form of prayer in Potawatomi Culture; there are times when I’m not allowed to photograph the drummers because it’s such a spiritual part of their culture, but they made a special exemption for me yesterday. Both the bride and groom had four people helping them during the ceremony. These people were chosen because of their relationship with the bride and groom (not unlike bridesmaids and groomsmen). As the drummer sang, the groom and his helpers danced into the ceremony. Each helper either carried something and/or literally guided the groom to his place up front.
Building the Nest and Fire
Once the groom was ready, he started to build a nest out of cedar he had collected earlier. The cedar nest represents a home for the new family and by building the nest, the groom is proving that he can take care of his new wife and family. Once the nest is built, the groom must also build a fire (the old school way, not using matches or a lighter). The name “Potawatomi” means “Fire Keepers” and men are the fire keepers of the family. So, once again, by building a fire, the groom is proving that he is ready to take care of his wife and family.
Bride’s Entrance and The Meal:
After the groom has built a nest and a fire, he has proven that he’s ready and the bride and her helpers dance in to the ceremony. The bride then enters the nest, bringing water and a meal she prepared ahead of time to feed her new husband. By cooking a meal and feeding her husband to be, she’s proving that she can take care of him. (I believe Micky made a meal of corn, venison, bread, and strawberries.) Once she has fed him, it’s the groom’s turn to feed his wife to be.
Tying of Hands:
Next, after the bride and groom have finished their meal, one of the elders that is ‘officiating’ the ceremony ties a ribbon around the wrists of the bride and groom signifying the union; it’s similar to the exchanging of rings in a Christian ceremony. As was tied they were told that, should anything ever happen and the marriage is terminated, they need to cut the ribbon in two.
Once their hands are tied together, there is a pipe ceremony. This is the one part of the ceremony that I was not allowed to photograph. It’s a very spiritual part of the ceremony as they believe that as the smoke rises from the pipe, it carries their prayers to The Creator.
Blanket and Dancing:
For the next part of the ceremony, a blanket is wrapped around the bride and groom and they dance around their nest to celebrate their marriage. Micky and Matt also invited up all of the married couples to dance around their nest with them to renew their vows.
After the dancing, Matt’s mother initiated a water ceremony. Similar to how the men are the Fire Keepers, it’s the women’s job to take care of the water. Water represents life and it’s necessary to create and maintain life (for example: a new baby grows in water in his mother). During the water ceremony, every guest drank a small cup of water.
Finally, the ceremony ended with the bride and groom giving every guest a gift as a thank you… it was a very cool way of ending a fun ceremony!
After the ceremony, everyone headed in to the reception to eat and celebrate while Micky, Matt, and I snuck off to take some last photos! Thank you Micky and Matt for including me in your wedding ceremony. It was a really amazing experience and one I know I won’t forget!