“Consistent with the Potawatomi heritage, the mission of the Forest County Potawatomi Foundation is to fight poverty, promote economic opportunity, strengthen communities and provide an example of responsible citizenship by assisting charitable organizations and support the pursuit of education by offering scholarships.“
The Potawatomi were once a large nation with much land, but after forced removal and the loss of millions of acres, scattered pockets of Potawatomi across regions of the United States and Canada resulted. Although diminished in number, our ancestors who remained in Wisconsin would eventually become known as the Forest County Potawatomi Community, Bodwe’wadmi, Keepers of the Fire. For many generations, we relied on the environment for sustenance. We recognized the importance of using what one needs and giving away what one can. Our tribe took only what the earth and land was able to replenish. Unfortunately, our people struggled with oppressive poverty that made for a very difficult life. But throughout our history, we have maintained our traditional ways, guided by tribal values that include reverence for the wisdom of our elders, embracing responsibilities for family and tribe, respect for the environment, and a willingness to share.
With the advent of Indian gaming, our tribe was able to establish and build two casinos — the first in Forest County, followed by one in Milwaukee. The revenue generated by gaming has had an impact on our way of life beyond our imagination. Our people now have good jobs, good homes, exceptional health care, and are closer to the realized vision of self-sufficiency. The resulting impact of these two businesses on the surrounding communities has been positive as well, through our family-supporting jobs and shared revenue payments that fund services for citizens. Through our casinos and tribal ventures, our tribe is the largest employer in Forest County, and among the top employers in Milwaukee.
When building the Milwaukee business, we realized early on that simply being located in the community wasn’t enough. We longed for a way to express our belief in giving back. We were committed to investing in, and providing, promising futures to individuals and families in the community. And so it was in 1999, that the Forest County Potawatomi Foundation was born with these guiding principles: to help fight poverty, promote economic opportunity, strengthen communities and provide an example of responsible citizenship by assisting charitable organizations. To date, the Foundation has proudly contributed over $30 million to charitable causes in both Forest County and in the Greater Milwaukee area.
But the story does not end here. Through the work of our Foundation, our tribe’s vision of building a better tomorrow for future generations continues … the fire still burns.
The Foundation is a result of the rich history and beliefs of the Potawatomi tribe. The cornerstone of those beliefs is the Circle of Life. Paralleling the seasons of nature, the Circle of Life is a demonstration of the Potawatomi reverence for all living things and nurtures the belief that they are a self-reliant and self-determined nation of people. Difficult times have sometimes made that self-reliance seem impossible to achieve. The Potawatomi people have witnessed both young and old struggle against the oppression of poverty. They have learned much in their past struggles, and the Circle of Life guides them to use the fruits of these lessons to help others overcome their obstacles.
Therefore, a major effort of the Foundation and its funds is to assist charitable organizations that help those people who are faced with economic challenges. As a result, the Foundation targets its resources to those areas with a high percentage of individuals with low and very low incomes.
“I pray to our creator that we look back so that we may see ahead. Let us examine our lives so that we are respectful to our fellow humans and to nature. Let us respect our children and, above all, let us live our lives in accordance to our beliefs.”
Jim Thunder, Tribal Elder, Forest County Potawatomi Community