Ojibway word meaning "People of the Place of the Fire." Originally part of the Ojibway and Ottawa, the Potawatomis separated from them on the eastern shore of Lake Huron; they migrated to the Western shore of Lake Michigan by the time of European contact. (1640, on islands near Green Bay, Wisconsin).

In an 1833 treaty, signed in Chicago, the united Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Chippewas ceded about five million acres to the United States. The "Potawatomis of the Prairie" received a tract of land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. In 1836, this land became a part of Missouri, and they were moved to Iowa until 1837, when they were moved with the Indiana and Illinois Potawatomis --the "Potawatomis of the Woods" or "Mission Potawatomis"-- into Kansas. Some fled to Canada, northern Wisconsin, and upper Michigan, where the communities continue today. In 1861, the tribe in Kansas was formally split over a treaty alloting individual and communal land. The Mission Band, acculturated and mostly Christian, sold their allotments and moved to Oklahoma. Today they are known as the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, headquartered in Shawnee. The Prairie Band chose communal ownership, their tribal headquarters today is in Mayetta, Kansas.