I was honored to have the opportunity to write the foreword to a publication for Decolonizing the Chicago Cultural Center at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial by the research collective The Settler Colonial City Project.
You can read and download the entire publication here.
This booklet is an important step toward acknowledging the colonial project we now call Chicago. Frankly, I was unfamiliar with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and was surprised when members began contacting me about “an Indigenous perspective” and “de-colonizing” the biennial to clear a space for native voices. Who knew? Since then, I have had the pleasure of making a small contribution to these efforts by consulting with Andrew Herscher, Ana Maria Leon and Paulo Tavares. Now, I am honored with providing a foreword to their document. This is significant – when individuals from distinctly different backgrounds, disciplines, and professions can organize and ally around a theme or issue, common understandings and common ground.
I am a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana. I grew up in that community and know that Chicago is a part of our ancestral lands. I had the opportunity to write about our connections to the city in Imprints, The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi & the City of Chicago (Michigan State University Press, 2016). I love Chicago. Our tribal nation is less than one hundred miles from the Loop – we are the closest Native nation to the city. I have fond memories of visiting the city as a child, going to the museums, planetarium, aquarium, and sporting events, including my beloved Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Later, I would earn an MA from the University of Chicago, lived in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, and Bucktown. I taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University, and finished my dissertation while a scholar in residence at the Newberry Library. Yes, I love Chicago.
Chicago has been ancestral home for many native peoples; Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Meskwaki, Fox, and others. It didn’t become an urban cosmopolitan place after the settler-colonists arrived. That is a false narrative. It has been a bustling place of interaction, trade, and habitation for thousands of years. But after 1833 and the last treaty of Chicago, American Indians were not expected to be included in “the American dream.” We were cultural patrimony, relics of the past. Modern America had no time for modern Indians. Pokagon Potawatomi author and activist, Simon Pokagon “talked back” to that notion with his oration at the World’s Columbian Exposition and his raising a birch bark tipi on the Midway during that event. Pokagon spoke before 70,000 people on Chicago Day in September of 1893; his booklet “The Red Man’s Greeting” was sold at the Fair and expressed his thoughts about the celebration.
On behalf of my people, the American Indians, I hereby declare to you, the pale-faced race that has usurped our lands and homes, that we have no spirit to celebrate with you the great Columbian Fair now being held in this Chicago city, the wonder of the world. No; sooner would we hold the high joy day over the graves of our departed than to celebrate our own funeral, the discovery of America. And while . . . your hearts in admiration rejoice over the beauty and grandeur of this young republic and you say, ‘behold the wonders wrought by our children in this foreign land,’ do not forget that this success has been at the sacrifice of our homes and a once happy race.
Clearly, it was difficult for him to celebrate this new Chicago. As he rode the Ferris Wheel at the Fair, Pokagon described his thoughts on how the place of his youth had changed.
As we were lifted up a strange sensation came over me, and I thought, the dominant race will yet invent a way for their sinners to reach heaven. For some cause, while our car was at its highest point, the monstrous wheel stood still. My companion said, “Pokagon, it stopped for you to view Chicago.” I surveyed the White City, stretching along the lake beneath me. Then, casting my eyes northward, I surveyed the white man’s Chicago. But how unlike the Chi-Kog-Ong of the red man! The shoreline of the lake, with its fleet of canoes; the marsh and winding river, with flags and rushes fringed, the scattering wigwams and the red men were nowhere to be seen. But in place rose roof o roof, steeples tall, smoking towers and masts of ships as far as eye could see. All had changed, except the sun and sky above, they had not, because the Great Spirit, in his wisdom, hung them beyond the white man’s reach.[i]
In large part, due to the U.S. governments plan of Indian relocation in the 1950’s, a new intertribal Indigenous community has emerged in Chicago. Simon Pokagon’s “talking back” against the erasure of Indigenous presence in Chicago has continued – reflected in the creation of Indigenous monuments including the bricolage at Wilson Avenue under Lakeshore Drive, and the historical marker and naming of “Battle of Fort Dearborn Park”.
Migwetch (thank you) to the authors of this booklet and to the reader as well. It tells an important story about Chicago that you usually don’t learn in school; one that is too often ignored. This little booklet, like Simon Pokagon’s little booklet of 130 years ago, is evidence that things are changing – not only in Chicago but around the world. Indigenous peoples are not just talking back; we are being heard.
[i] Simon Pokagon, “The Chi-Kog-Ong of the Red Man,” The New York Times, The Sunday Magazine, December 5, 1897; 7-10, 10.