Ashley Melot Contreras

Ashley Melot Contreras, whose lineage traces back to the Potawatomi tribe based in Shawnee, Oklahoma, takes immense pride in her Native American heritage. Her ancestral history is a testament to the cultural diversity and rich traditions of American Indians.

 

Potawatomi cuisine boasts unique flavors and ingredients, with Three Sisters Soup being a culturally significant dish. Comprising corn, squash, and beans, these ingredients, when grown together, support one another and thrive, teaching settlers how to garden harmoniously.

 

 

 

 

 

For the Potawatomi tribe, art had a purpose. Natural items like berries and flowers were used for dyes, while resources like moose hair were employed for embroidery, a significant source of income. Art was also a medium for storytelling and passing down cultural narratives. Floral patterns adorned regalia and clothing, emphasizing the tribe's connection to nature.

The Potawatomi tribe is renowned for its deep-rooted traditions and meaningful ceremonies. One such tradition that holds a special place in their culture is the naming ceremony. Ashley and her youngest son are preparing to go through this sacred ceremony in the summer of 2024. The naming ceremony is a deeply spiritual event, often involving two sponsors who play the role of godparents, guiding and watching over the individuals throughout their lives. Prior to the ceremony, a gift of tobacco is given to the person who will bestow the name, and offerings of water and tobacco are made. The ceremony takes place in a circle, symbolizing unity, with participants offering prayers and tobacco to the four directions. The names are revealed as an eagle feather is placed on the chest of each participant. It's a powerful and meaningful tradition that signifies a profound connection to their heritage.

The history of the Potawatomi tribe is equally compelling. Ashley's lineage is connected to her 4x great grandmother, Watchekee, also known as Zozette or Josett. Watchekee was born in 1810 and was the daughter of Chief Benjamin Shabbona, a renowned peacemaker among the three Fire Tribes, which included the Potawatomi. Chief Shabbona played a crucial role in forging peace between tribes and settlers during the War of 1812. He shared his knowledge of farming and medicinal plants with settlers and often warned them about potential uprisings, earning him the title of the Peace Chief. The town of Shabbona, Illinois, was named in his honor.

 

Watchekee's life was marked by hardships, including multiple marriages and removal from her homeland. She was part of the tragic forced removal known as the "Trail of Death," during which 859 Potawatomi were forcibly relocated from the Great Lakes region to present-day Kansas in 1838. Watchekee's enduring love for her homeland led her to walk over 6,000 miles back and forth between her original territory and the new reservation, where she continued to show kindness and support to settlers. In 1865, Middleport, Illinois, was renamed Wateska in her honor, and The Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a chapter to her.

 

 

 

Ashley's family's connection to nature and their cultural heritage remains strong. Her father, Jim Melot, imparts knowledge about the environment, including edible and medicinal plants, herbal teas, and animal tracks. Ashley is 1/64 Native American, and her tribe does not restrict recognition based on a specific percentage. She and her two son receive tribal benefits, including college tuition and healthcare, thanks to their Native American heritage. 

The Potawatomi tribe, like many Indigenous Peoples, has a unique language known as Bodewadmimwen. Ashley's youngest son has been learning words and phrases from this language, reflecting the tribe's linguistic richness. Some common phrases include "mno gishget" (good day), "ni je na?" (how are you?), "neneyem" (mom or mother), "dédé" (father or dad), "nagech" (goodbye or later), "ndewéma" (brother of any age), and "ndekwém" (sister of any age).

Ashley's story and her family's connection to the Potawatomi tribe offer valuable insights into the diverse and meaningful traditions, history, and culture of Native American communities. Texas, where Ashley resides, is part of the Indigenous lands of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what is now called North America. The state of Texas has a rich tapestry of Indigenous Peoples, including the Alabama-Coushatta, Caddo, Carrizo/Comecrudo, Coahuiltecan, Comanche, Kickapoo, Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, and Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo. These communities have contributed to the cultural heritage and history of Texas, making it an important part of the American Indian narrative.

 

Ashley's journey, her family's traditions, and their connection to the Potawatomi tribe shed light on the resilience, cultural richness, and enduring legacy of Native American heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Potawatomi Dress