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Robert J. Moody Jr.: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with Vice Chairman Robert J. Moody Jr.

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Robert J. Moody Jr., vice chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

What is your name in your language, and what does it mean?

It's Migisi Nag Wiid Disowen, which means My Eyes Are the Eyes of the Eagle, or Eagle Vision.

Where is your tribe located?

Southwestern Michigan and northern Indiana. That area is also where we are originally from.

What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?

Leopold Pokagon negotiated the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which secured the right of the tribe to remain in Michigan and not be removed to the west. In 1994 the federal government, through congressional legislation, restored all rights to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi as a federally recognized tribe.

How is the Pokagon Band government set up?

The Pokagon government consists of a legislative branch—the Tribal Council—and a judicial branch—the Tribal Court. Our Tribal Council consists of a chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, secretary, six members at large, and an elders’ representative. We have a total of eleven seats on our Tribal Council.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have an Elders Council. We also have many pipecarriers and a very active veterans group.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

As provided by our Tribal Constitution, we have staggered, three-year terms of office. Tribal elections are held every July.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

Tribal Council meets once a week, generally on a Monday, with an additional meeting on the second Saturday of each month. All meetings are open to tribal citizens. Meetings are also webcast for those who may not have the opportunity to attend.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your band?

In the early 1980s, I began to be involved with tribal politics along with my grandmother. I served as a Tribal Council member at large until the 1990s. Late in the 1990s I was honored to serve as the tribal chairman. My service was shared with responsibilities and activities on many boards and committees of the tribe. Restoration of our sovereignty provided many challenges as to the proper structuring and implementation of government and government services for our citizens.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As vice chairman, I have the duty, first and foremost, to work for the people, tribal citizens, and for many generations to come. The day-to-day activities consist of meetings, correspondence, giving direction, consideration and development of new legislation, representing the tribe, and fulfilling all duties of the office in the absence of the chairman.

Who inspired you?

My mother and my father, along with my grandmother and my uncle, were all my mentors. Leopold Pokagon and his vision have always been a deep inspiration and guide in my life.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

My great-grandfather, R. C. Mix, was instrumental in working with the federal government to reinstate our rights. He served on Tribal Council in the 1950s and was an inspiration to me. One of the foremost reasons I got into tribal leadership was to pick up his crusade and continue it.

Approximately how many members are in the Pokagon Band?

As of August of this year, the citizen or membership count is 4,936.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.