The Pokagon Cultural Center Project

To begin to create a colloquium worthy of a project, CRI always starts with the process of unearthing the clients' First Principles. For the clients, it is intended to provide an opportunity to discover and communicate their foundational values and beliefs and in doing so learn to find common ground among themselves. For the Creative Director, the First Principles become the building blocks of the project and a set of design principles that must be accommodated.


First Principles of the Pokagon Cultural Center


Welcoming Lifeways

Principle:  Where the Life Ways of the Anishnabek are nurtured and celebrated authentically, the Way welcomes all Anishnabek who are interested and respect the Way.



Principle:  The native plants and animals of the Pokagon Land are the brothers and sisters of the Anishnabek.  They are the Cultural Center, the only ones on earth with the genetic memory of living in harmony with the Anishnabek, having provided them their food, shelter, clothing, tools, medicine, spiritual guidance, and knowledge of the Way.



Principle:  If we honor the Circle of Life, all life stages will be reflected, embraced, and accommodated, and the circle will remain a circle.


Building Community

Principle: A Cultural Center that embraces meaningful interactions among all members of the community assures the social health of the community



Principle:  A cultural center that nurtures the original Way, that the Potawatomi are the “Keepers of the Fire”, will recognize that Fire nourishes the Anishnabek through the preparation of food, comforts them through its heat, and is critical to the Way in which the Anishnabek maintain harmony with all of their brothers and sisters.



Principle:  All the waters that fall and flow are a gift from the Great Spirit.



Principle:  A cultural center that receives the wind and air easily will invite all who participate with open arms.



Principle: If the Way of Mother Earth is honored and understood, she will provide all the gifts necessary to nurture the Anishnabek, including all that is beautiful and inspiring, substantive and spiritual.



Principle:  The Anishnabek were here in the past, we are here now, and we will be here in the future, so all that we do is inspired by the experience and humility of the wise, the search for beauty and integrity of our labors, and assured by the blessings, creativity, new ideas born into the unique souls of each of our children.


Locally Reflected Ambience

Principle:  Since familiarity creates a sense of well-being, the more authentic vehicles to familiarity are through the senses and through the use of locally obtained and traditionally used materials and craftsmanship


Key questions which evolved:


In the words of the Pokagon Band, these questions and answers emerged:


What is culture?

• Culture is not a building.

• Culture is the way we live—our  lifeways.

• Living our lifeways.

• Culture is the knowledge of our food, ceremonies, language, our unique Potawatomi/Anishabe lifeways.


What do we want to do as a culture?
• Unite. Be together. Create a home base that fosters a sense of 'home', 'grandma's, welcome, respite, and safety.

• Share and teach our language and cultural lifeways. Learn and practice our language and cultural  lifeways. Engage in ceremonies

• Follow in the traditional ways of resiliency and adaptability. Support traditions that create economic opportunities through the implementation of traditional ways (black ash basket making, huckleberry picking, land stewardship, growing and producing traditional food and healing plants)

• Archive and display for teaching purposes (artifacts, art, photos, documents)

• Be in spiritually rich relationships ... human to animal to plant to water. Nurture our relationship with the rain/water, sun, soil, wind, sky, and stars

• Acknowledge and care for the elders. Honor the power of the next generation. Balance male and female relationship.

This hand-drawn rendering of the Cultural Center represents the aesthetics and program scale, as discovered by the Pokagons through design colloquiums. (Rendering by Nicole Andersson)



Site Assessment


Each site assessment begins with an attempt to understand the ecological and cultural history of the site.  General Land Survey Notes are read and interpreted.  An inventory of the plants is made of the various vegetational or land use areas.  Each area is evaluated with respect to floristic quality and the extent to which a proposed project impacts might have positive or negative effects on the water, soil, and aboriginal life of the area.  Often an assessment of the some guilds of animals are evaluated as well.  Inevitably, each area will be assessed to determine the optimum approach to maintenance, restoration, and stewardship.


At Rodgers Lake, for example, 18 vegetational areas were assessed and evaluated using the approach invented by Dr. Wilhelm known as floristic quality assessment.  A significant number of areas were determined to be irreplaceable remnant landscapes.  Those are shown in red and orange in table “Landscapes of Rodgers Lake".  Recommendations for rehabilitation and stewardship were recommended.


Several other sites were severely degraded and two areas represent complete system obliteration.  It was from among these sites that structural elements of the cultural center were selected for construction.

"Drifting" is commonly used to describe how a botanist finds his way across a landscape. On many occasions Dr. Wilhelm and Margot Mazur drifted across Rodgers Lake with Band members and others who know and love this place.

The Design Workshops


Over a period of one year the Creative Director, Margot Mazur, immersed the Band in a series of monthly one-day workshops to explore in detail their vision, needs, preferences, and opportunities.


The workshops included:

• An exploration of the Rodgers Lake site to determine the most advantageous placement of the Cultural Center.

• Local and regional resource gathering (natural and human).

• An introduction to building styles and building layouts.

• A detailed assessment of their programs needs.

• An identification of an overall ambience for the places they would inhabit.

• An identification of the important and appropriate cultural stories, icons, and traditions to be included.


Workshops often included outside professionals to enhance understandings of a topic. For example, Clay Chapman of Period Architecture, a master brick mason, attended the building styles workshop to introduce the Band to the idea of hand- crafted masonry.



Link to

pptx file

Schematic Design Workshop


For the Schematic Design Workshop, the outside of our creative direction circle was infused with a carefully selected group of professionals, practitioners, artists, and thinkers (as seen below around the circle) who could best interpret the Band's vision. For example, an acoustics engineer and designer was asked to participate in the colloquium to accommodate the quality of sound needed for a people who sing, dance, and drum as an important part of their cultural experience. The acoustics needed to be special.


One of the Bands goals for this project is to be a "net zero project". Heating is an obvious need in southwestern Michigan where the Pokagons come from. The resource of wood is plentiful on their land and fortuitously wood removal is necessary to restoration efforts. For cultural reasons fire is important. In colloquium it all came together for the Band and professionals gathered. The campus heating solution became a high-efficiency, non-polluting wood burning furnace using locally resourced wood.


The site plan below and the site rendering at the top of the page were the results of the Schematic Design Workshop.


Workshops to date:


The Schematic Design Workshop was followed by a smaller workshop to explore an entrance road with its own hydrology and a new campus wastewater system based on the innovative approaches of John Todd Ecological Design methods.



The site plan was a complex melding of building and people requirements with the Band's deep concern for the health and healing of their land.

Jonathan Todd from John Todd Ecological Design brainstorms with Band members on new wastewater design ideas.