Trade | Wars | Treaties
Early European contact brought fur trade and a short-lived time of prosperity for the Potawatomi people. The first account of the Potawatomi people was by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer traveling the Great Lakes in 1615.
The first contact with the Potawatomi wasn't until 1634 when Jean Nicolet, a French explorer and interpreter, visited Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Potawatomi moved into Wisconsin because of pressure and raids from the Iriquois Confederacy. While there, they met Fr. Claude Allouez, a Jesuit priest, and in 1670 established their first contact with Christianity.
By 1679, Potawatomi Chief Onanghisse and French explorer René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle had developed fur trading in Wisconsin. Potawatomi villages were central to this campaign and often used as an area to stockpile fur. This trading, and other trading with Europeans led to intermarriage between the two cultures.
While European settlement allowed new alliances and lucrative avenues of trade to develop, it also caused new conflicts over territory and resources that resulted in an exodus by the native population to avoid the detrimental conditions that accompanied political and social instability. By the end of the eighteenth century, the foundations for Neshnabe social structure were changed forever. Consensus traditionally governed Potawatomi village life-a system that worked as long as individuals who dissented were allowed to leave, new villages were free to form, and tribal leaders who disappointed the community could be cast aside. European settlement significantly constrained Native mobility, eventually causing infighting and destruction of old alliances, all of which greatly hindered the structure of tribal communities. Turmoil ensued.
The structure of Neshnabe society, the existence of strong warrior societies, the sheer numbers of native peoples in the Great Lakes region and the superior knowledge of the terrain and warfare tactics conducive to fighting in the area meant that for many years, the colonial powers vying for control of lands in what would become the Old Northwest were forced to deal with tribes on a government-to-government basis.