“Man of the Dawn Sky”: Centering Anishinaabe Resistance in the Spiritual Authority and Geographic Mobility of Main Poc during the Era of US Expansion

Saturday, January 8, 2022: 9:10 AM
Rhythms Ballroom 2 (Sheraton New Orleans)
John Nelson, Texas Tech University
This paper examines the figure of Main Poc, an Anishinaabe spiritual leader in the Chicago region during the early nineteenth century. Often described as a “prophet” or “juggler” in Euro-American sources, Main Poc rose to prominence as a religious and military commander in the river valleys south of Lake Michigan when the United States began to advance its claims over indigenous lands in the region. Combining his own spiritual authority—denoted by his physical disability as a sign of special powers—and his wide-ranging geographic knowledge, Main Poc mounted an Anishinaabe-specific response to U.S. encroachment which differed from more familiar Nativist movements in the region during this same era. His charismatic leadership attracted a wide following among Potawatomis and other Anishinaabeg of the western Great Lakes, while his strategic use of the region’s waterways allowed him to mount raiding campaigns as far as Missouri, Iowa, Canada, and Kentucky. Exploring how Main Poc cultivated his own authority as a resistance leader and how he articulated his vision of Nativism through a distinct Anishinaabe worldview, the paper offers a reinterpretation that highlights the diversity of pan-indigenous Nativist movements in this period of North American history. The paper also emphasizes the balance of factors that undergirded a figure like Main Poc’s authority, from physical disability and spiritual power, to environmental knowledge and geographic mobility.