I learned a beautiful phrase today: keepers of the fire.
This is what the Potawatomi tribe call themselves. In fact, the word “Potawatomi” means “keepers of the fire.”
Historically, they were one of three tribes that formed the Council of Three Fires meant to uphold peace.
(1) Ojibwe: Older Brother, “Keepers of Faith”
(2) Odawa: Middle Brother, “Keepers of Trade”
(3) Potawatomi: Youngest Brother, “Keepers of the Fire”
As the “youngest brother”, the Potawatomi had the last entry into the Council. As such, their role was to tend to the Sacred Fire, literally and figuratively, to manage the ceremonial fire and by tending to the alliance to ensure peace.
Their story is one of heartbreak and tears.
Due to the voracious appetite of European / American settlers of land, like countless other Indian tribes, the Potawatomi were ruthlessly pushed from their lands and forced to migrate west.
The great migration displaced generations of tradition, history, language, culture. Not to mention lives.
So much of indigenious history is layered with tragedy and trauma. Most tragic of all may be that so much of this history is slowly being forgotten.
The culture and their history dies with every story that remains unspoken, that does not pass through generational wisdom.
Yet while there has been so much tragedy, there is also hope.
The Sacred Fire was extinguished many generations ago. However, in modern times, the “Keepers of the Fire” have a new fire to protect — the preservation of their heritage.
The Potawatomi are one of the few that managed to successfully preserve much of their native culture, rituals, and language.
Learning about indigenous history and the Potawatomi tribe leads me to wonder about the fires that have been extinguished, as well as take inventory of the fires in my own life that need tending to.
More importantly, I’ve realized that keeping a fire alive is a tricky business. Someone must always be there to ensure the fire will burn — especially through the night. Help is required.
As I continue reflecting on the significance of this phrase “keepers of the fire”, I wonder what other fires need “keepers” during their overnight shifts, to keep their flames alive.