Editor’s Note: Thanks to Jeff Kenney for contributing to this article.
A group of Culver Academies students recently blended community service with education and honoring the legacy of the Potawatomi Native Americans of the Culver area.
As part of a community service event on Aug. 17, sophomores and juniors identified as “emerging leaders” spent the morning performing various projects at sites around the boarding school’s campus, Miller’s Merry Manor in Culver, and at the monument to Potawatomi Chief Menominee on Peach Road between Culver and Plymouth.
The students who traveled to the Chief Menominee statue were led in the activity by Don Fox, a senior instructor in Culver’s Leadership Education Department. The layout of the property and the rural locale of the monument was optimal for compliance with social distancing guidelines, with masks worn and space maintained between students and faculty and staff. They were met at the site by Culver Academies Museum and Archives Manager Jeff Kenney, who frequently speaks on topics relating to local history.
The monument, Kenney explained, is the first state-sponsored monument to a Native American in the United States. The large statue with engraved base includes the name of Alexander Fleet, Culver Military Academy superintendent at the time and a trustee of the monument. It honors the memory of Menominee, best known as the area Potawatomi leader who refused to sign a treaty granting his land to the federal government.
It was erected in 1909 as a result of the efforts of Daniel McDonald, a county pioneer and Indiana senator who helped bring the railroad to Culver. The railroad helped facilitate the existence of Culver Academies, Kenney said. McDonald also served as Marshall County’s first historian, penning a book lamenting the injustice of the forced removal of the Potawatomi from the area.
That removal, known as the “Trail of Death,” forced 859 Native Americans from settlements around Lake Maxinkuckee and other nearby areas, resulting in the death of 42 Potawatomi as well as a young Catholic priest, Fr. Benjamin Petit, who voluntarily accompanied them on the forced march to Kansas. Petit, said Kenney, is buried with honor under a log cabin replica chapel – very similar in design to the Potawatomi chapel built in the 1820s near the Menominee monument – at the University of Notre Dame, an institution with longstanding connections to Culver Academies.
The Notre Dame-Culver-Potawatomi connection was reinforced in August 2017, as a group of walkers representing the university traveled “The Notre Dame Trail,” a 320-mile walk from Vincennes, Indiana, to Notre Dame to honor the university’s 175th anniversary. That is the route taken by Rev. Edward Sorin and seven Holy Cross brothers to establish the educational institution in South Bend. That trail included stops at Culver Academies and the Chief Menominee monument.
Kenney also detailed the Potawatomi presence at Lake Maxinkuckee, noting that the village of Chief Aubbenaubbee – the namesake of Culver Academies’ Aubbeenaubbee Bay – was situated on the south shore of the lake. The village of Chief Nas-Wau-Kee was located on the east shore of the lake on 18B Road, he said. Culver students have often passed (perhaps albeit unknowingly) a small monument honoring Chief Nas-Wau-Kee when walking through Culver’s town park, said Kenney, noting a descendant of the chief helped dedicate the monument in 2011.
Chief Nas-Wau-Kee was the spokesman for the Potawatomi against the federal government in 1837 at the council which eventually led to the signing of a treaty removing the Potawatomi’s lands. Just one year prior, in 1836, the first European settlers had arrived at Lake Maxinkuckee, Kenney added.
He also shared with the group a number of images from British artist George Winter, whose paintings of the Potawatomi in the Culver and surrounding areas captured scenes of their lives and lifestyles. Winter was present for the beginning of the Trail of Death as well, Kenney said, displaying sketches the artist made of the event.
“It’s great to see that Culver students have an opportunity to learn of the legacy of indigenous people at and around the site of Culver’s campus,” said Kenney, adding he hoped the event would immerse them in the story of the people who once called the area home. He noted that the descendants of area Potawatomi continue to thrive in Kansas, while Fox informed students that a sizeable community of Potawatomi still remain in the South Bend/lower Michigan area.
After the presentation, students painted the line of fencepost bollards surrounding the monument area, using paint provided by representatives of Marshall County, which maintains the state-owned monument site.
Keira Markell said she found the experience “extremely rewarding as there is so much history represented by the Chief Menominee statue. On top of learning about service, we had Mr. Kenney there to teach us a little about the history of the Potawatomi, which gave a certain significance to our task. We weren’t just painting poles in the middle of a cornfield, we were doing our part to honor a piece of Culver history that so often goes unrecognized.”
Emilia Murphy agreed.
“This experience was the first time I had heard about the Trail of Death and the suffering that the Potawatomi people endured. Although a reminder of a tragic event, Chief Menominee’s statue commemorates courage and great leadership,” she said. “It was a great honor for my classmates and I to revive Chief Menominee’s statue and remember his legacy. His actions in the face of adversity inspire me to become a better leader and support my community.”
The leadership team visiting Miller’s Merry Manor in Culver had the opportunity to meet and listen to resident Charles “Mick” Henley, who is a cousin of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting family in Mississippi. To maintain COVID-19 protocols, Henley talked with the students from his room while they gathered outside his open window. The students also walked the perimeter of the building greeting residents gathered at their windows or in the fenced-in courtyard. Everyone wore their masks.
Four more teams spent Monday morning clearing invasive plants and debris from four different locations around Culver’s campus. Working in the marsh by the Bird Sanctuary, the Woodcraft Rain Garden, Aubbenaubee Trail, and Horsemanship Trail, the groups identified and cleared out several species. Science instructor Xenia Czifrik said the Bird Sanctuary team removed several species, including Purple Looseleaf, Asian Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Multiflora Rose.
The marsh is located between the tennis courts and the Bird Sanctuary, Czifrik said, and includes a wide variety of native blooming plants and flowers that assist in filtering the excess nutrients and pollutants out of the water. Native plants include Black-Eyed Susan and Coneflower. Along with removing the invasive plants, Czifrik said the group also removed several small trees to reduce the density.
Other teams working on campus due to COVID-19 restrictions cleaned up the multipurpose building after student registration, washed maintenance vehicles, and moved and stored student luggage. A team of six Asian-Pacific students worked remotely via Zoom on a public service announcement about the importance of wearing masks.
Emerging leaders, according to Master Instructor and Chair of Culver’s Leadership Education Department Susan Freymiller deVillier, are returning Culver students without designated roles in training new students.
“That leaves them free to explore the concept of responsible citizenship through hands-on experiences in meeting identified community needs,” said deVillier. “This service event hopes to inspire the students to think bigger on how they can engage with their communities.”