Category Archives: Exhibits

MAPPING CHICAGOU/CHICAGO: The Settler Colonial City Project

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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.

Foreword

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.

Article from the alumni magazine of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan, Spring 2020: The Place of Wild Onions

The Place of Wild Onions is an excerpt from a multi-part story on the recent Settler Colonial City Project (SCCP) exhibit at the Yates Gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Pages 41-43)

I am honored that my book, Imprints: the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians & the City of Chicago, was one of the inspirations for this impressive work and exhibit.

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You can read the Story on the LSA Magazine Website

You can also download the issue as a PDF or read the E-zine.

New Short Documentrary on YouTube: The Pokagon Band of Potowatomi

The Pokagon Band of Potowatomi

“Very few native tribes avoided removal to the West, but the Pokagons, led by Chief Leopold Pokagon, managed to do it. This short documentary, produced for The Region of Three Oaks Museum, tells that story and subsequent events that led to official recognition of the Pokagons by the US government 160 years later.”

Ohio Mounds Top USA’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Bid (With Audio)

Ohio Mounds Top USA’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Bid

In the Arts & Sciences News: Heritage, legacy drives Newark Earthworks Center director

Heritage, legacy drives Newark Earthworks Center director

Newark Earthworks
The east entrance of the Newark Earthwork’s Great Circle.


Encompassing over 4 square miles and constructed by the indigenous peoples of the ancient Hopewell culture between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D, the Newark Earthworks are the largest set of earthen enclosures in the world. Approximately 2,000 years after they were built, John Low feels their significance and generational legacy in his veins.

Low, an associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State Newark, was recently named director of the Newark Earthworks Center (NEC), an interdisciplinary academic center at Ohio State. Created in 2005, the NEC examines American Indians’ cultural and scientific achievements with a focus on developing programs and researching the cultures that constructed earthworks around the Midwest.

Low is the coordinator of the Newark campus’s American studies minor and often takes students to the earthworks, where he’s able to incorporate them into his teaching and research. A citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indian nation, Low feels a distinct connection to the earthworks, a connection passed down by his ancestors.

“We may have direct descendance to these mound builders, and even if we don’t, these were our indigenous neighbors that built these places,” Low said. “The earthworks are a celebration of who our ancestors were and who we are as Native peoples. That’s what it means to me.”


Much of the earthworks have been demolished over the years as Newark has developed and expanded, but three sections have remained more or less intact:

  • The Great Circle Earthworks: Approximately 1,200 feet in diameter — wide enough to cram in four football fields end to end — the Great Circle’s walls are 8 feet high with a 5-foot trench along the inside circumference of the circle. The Great Circle’s gateway points due east, and Eagle Mound — a group of mounds in the shape of a bird midflight — is nestled at its center.
  • The Wright Earthworks: A few blocks northeast of the Great Circle is the Wright Earthworks. Though much of Wright has been destroyed with the city of Newark’s expansion and development, the mounds used to form a near-perfect square with eight small mounds situated within.
  • The Octagon Earthworks: A little over a mile to the northwest of the Great Circle lies the Octagon Earthworks, which comprises of the Octagon, Observatory Circle and Observatory Mound. The Octagon has eight walls, each approximately 550 feet long, 5 to 6 feet tall and separated by gaps in the corners. Connected to the Octagon’s west side is Observatory Circle, with Observatory Mound laid perpendicularly across its western entrance.

“The people who built these were very pre-Frank Lloyd Wright in that they were really concerned with the horizonal,” Low said. “He was interested in his architecture blending in and being horizontal and in balance with the environment.”

Though no one can know for certain the Hopewell peoples’ reasons for constructing the complex — some speculate the earthworks were places of worship, trade, burials and other ceremonies — they remain an extraordinary feat of ingenuity that exemplify their creators’ advanced knowledge of geometry, astronomy and earthen engineering.

For example, in 1982, researchers from Earlham College discovered that the Octagon Earthworks was a complicated lunar observatory. The gaps between each wall of the Octagon, they found, are aligned to points on the horizon indicating notable moonrises and moonsets of a complex 18.6-year lunar cycle, with the extreme northernmost moonrise lining up exactly with the Octagon’s central axis. Furthermore, the square footage of both the Great Circle and the Observatory Circle (1,054 feet) corresponds to other Hopewellian structures, including the Octagon.

“That measurement is replicated in other places in Ohio, so they were doing the exact same thing,” Low said. “Regarding the moon cycle, we can only speculate why that was important, but it was important to them. It may have represented stability and balance that these things were going to continue as they were expected to go. It shows a lot of human ingenuity.”

Newark Earthworks
Moundbuilders Country Club’s golf course is constructed within the Octagon and Observatory Circle.


The Newark Earthworks is operated as a state park by the Ohio History Connection, is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is considered by the state of Ohio as “the official prehistoric monument of the state.”

The site is also being considered for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which recognizes designated landmarks around the world that have cultural, historical or scientific significance and are legally protected by international treaties. The Newark Earthworks’ status on the list hinges partly on an ongoing legal battle with Moundbuilders Country Club, on which the Octagon Earthworks lay.

Low says, however, the designation wouldn’t be decided on for another three to four years.

“There would be a significant influx of tourism from around the world, which would be really exciting to be able share this,” he said.

As director of the NEC, Low is striving to promote scholarly engagement surrounding the Newark Earthworks and grow the NEC as an elite research center. He feels a duty to develop the NEC and bring academics to the earthworks not just because he’s a professor and researcher, but because of the generations that came before him.

“The blood of mound builders is in our veins,” he said. “We may not have built them, but we carry that ancestry and that legacy and that inheritance with us.”

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Link to an Indigenous Tour of Northwestern (Virtual Reality)

Here is a link to a wonderful mapping of the Indigenous presence in the greater Chicago area created by students at Northwestern University. Dr Patty Loew was kind enough to include me in the series of interviews. Very impressive interactive website. Migwetch Patty!

Indigenous Tour of  Northwestern

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Chinese Graduate Student Visits Our Basket Exhibit

I had the pleasure of meeting with Yan He at the LeFevre Gallery on the Ohio State University Newark campus on Thursday, 10/31. She is a doctoral student from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong Province and her focus is on folklore studies, performance, cultural identity, Intangible Cultural Heritage. Her dissertation topic: Women’s script (Nvshu wenzi) and associated culture in Hunan province, China. We had the chance to talk at length regarding the Pokagon Potawatomi Black Ash Basket exhibit in the Gallery. Pictured below is Yan He along with her host Professor Mark Bender and myself. Thank you Mark for making this meeting possible!

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Warrior Women

Warrior Women Project

We at Ohio State University – Newark had the opportunity to screen the film Warrior Women on September 19th, and we were joined by Madonna Thunder Hawk, her daughter Marcy Gilbert and the film’s co-producer/Director Beth Castle. The movie is about the American Indian Red Power Movement from it’s inception to today. It focuses on the essential contributions of women, including Madonna and Marcy, to that movement. I was honored to introduce our esteemed guests and secured a photo with Madonna and Marcy during their visit. They are inspiring leaders and I highly recommend the film. It is excellent.

Warrior Women Visit Cropped
L to R: Madonna Thunder Hawk, me, Marcy Gilbert.

Upcoming Exhibit: The Black Ash Baskets of the Potawatomi

Exhibit Opening: The Black Ash Baskets of the Potawatomi

The public is invited to the opening of an exhibit celebrating the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, and their art of black ash basket making. On Friday, September 13 at 4 p.m., the exhibit, “Art & Artifact: Material Culture & Meaning Making – Bodéwadmi Wisgat Gokpenagen, The Black Ash Baskets of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians,” will open at The Ohio State University at Newark in the LeFevre Hall Art Gallery located at 1199 University Drive.

According to exhibit curator John N. Low, PhD, Potawatomi basket making is a reclamation and recovery of a piece of native knowledge and technology, and it represents a potent counter-colonial and counter-hegemonic act with lasting implications. Low is an associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State Newark and an enrolled citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

“This exhibit reflects an understanding that objects are not lifeless things that occupy space.

They have spirit and meaning,” he said. “Centered upon intellectual and material property, basket weaving is an opportunity for native women and men to make their own histories by using the past to ‘read’ the present.”

The exhibit is sponsored by grants from The Ohio State University Global Arts and Humanities’ Indigenous Arts and Humanities Initiative, American Indian Studies program, Ohio State Newark Milliken Fund and the Newark Earthworks Center. It will be available at Ohio State Newark until December 15.

“This is an opportunity to learn about and enjoy the artistry of American Indian peoples of the Midwest. The exhibit explores the ways in which objects like baskets communicate to those who take the time to ‘listen’,” said Low. “See the iconic black ash basketry of the Potawatomi Indians, and join in the celebration of the revival of this art.”

Low received his PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan. His most recent book, Imprints: The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians & the City of Chicago, was published by the Michigan State University Press (2016).

The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s inclusive of diversity, challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.

Insights at Night – The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi at the History Museum in South Bend, IN on July 24th, 7-9PM (RSVP)

SB flyerInsights at Night – The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi (Wednesday, July 24, 2019)

John Low Presents Program on the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi

The History Museum welcomes Dr John N. Low, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University and an enrolled citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, for a presentation at Insights at Night, taking place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. In his talk, Pokagnek Bodewadmik: The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, Dr. Low gives an overview of his tribal nation.

As part of the program, guests may visit the museum’s new exhibit Keepers of the Fire: The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Flavored iced coffees will be offered. Admission is $5/general and $4/members. Reservations are required by July 22 and can be made online at historymuseumSB.org or by calling (574) 235-9664.

For information, call The History Museum at (574) 235-9664 or visit www.historymuseumSB.org

Pokagons Collaborate with the Field Museum in Chicago on Native Exhibit

I was honored to give an Armour Lecture yesterday June 5 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I spoke on the power of native baskets and the importance of the Black Ash Basket Coop to the Pokagon Potawatomi community. Highlighted were cofounders Julia Wesaw, Agnes Rapp, Judy Augusta, and Rae Daugherty. 

I was also honored to be invited to guest curate a temporary exhibit on Black Ash baskets at the Field Museum scheduled for Autumn 2021.

Many thanks to my hosts Alaka Wali, Debra Yepa-Pappan, and Eli Suzukovich for their kind hospitality and to everyone who came out for my talk!
Chi Migwetch!

More Here:

Pokagons collaborate with Field Museum on native exhibit

When Pokagon history professor John Low Ph.D., heard that The Field Museum in Chicago would embark on a project to revamp its dated Native North America Exhibit Hall, he brought that to the attention of the tribe’s Traditions and Repatriation Committee and the Department of Language & Culture. Committee members Christine and Gary Morseau and Jason S. Wesaw, as well as Marcus Winchester, director, and Blaire Topash-Caldwell, archivist, from the Department, went to view the museum’s collection. They met with Debra Yepa-Pappan, a Pueblo artist and community engagement coordinator for the Native American exhibit renovation project at the museum, who asked for Pokagon participation in the project. Topash-Caldwell is now serving on the committee reviewing the museum’s renovation.

Recently, Winchester spoke at a ceremony dedicating and installing an acknowledgment of the original inhabitants of the land the museum occupies. The new plaque sits in a garden full of native plants and states: “The Field Museum resides on the traditional homelands of the Three Fires Confederacy: Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi. The area was also a site of trade, travel and healing for more than a dozen other native tribes.”

It is a “much, much needed renovation,” Field president and CEO Richard Lariviere said in the Chicago Tribune’s article about the ceremony and project. “This project intends to correct the way the museum tells the Native American history by doing so through the lens and voices of Native Americans.”

“It means a lot for such an influential museum in the United States to put themselves out there and acknowledge indigenous people as traditional land owners,” Winchester said after the ceremony that included a hand drum singer and a jingle dress dancer.

“I met people from other museums there,” he said. “I would most definitely like to see other museums follow their lead.”

The museum’s current exhibit will remain open throughout the three-year overhaul, with fall of 2021 as the targeted completion date.

Miigwetch! Thank You to the Snite Museum.

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I wanted to thank everyone at the Snite Museum of Art for their kind hospitality. I also wanted to thank my co-speaker, Christine Rapp-Morseau. Above is a pic of Christine speaking (I am to the left). I also received nice comments. Thank you to all who attended!

Posted with permission:

Dear Christine and John,

Thank you for all of the time and thought you put into making Saturday’s program such a success. I have heard from many people since how much they enjoyed the event and how much they learned (me included!). I especially appreciated the generous ways in which you each worked to make your particular areas of expertise accessible to a general audience.
Miigwetch!
Frances
Frances Jacobus-Parker
Snite Museum of Art
University of Notre Dame

And a note from Christine:

Migwetth Frances. I think it worked great together. John’s slide show was very informative and made me emotional seeing my grandmother, my teacher on screen. Much thanks for your work at the Snite Museum. I didn’t really understand some of the art there until your colleague/friend explained to me in detail about them. It was amazing and took on a whole new meaning to me. Job well done Frances, I loved it!

Christine Rapp-Morseau

Armour Seminar at the Field Museum, Jun 5th from 12:00PM – 1:00PM

Armour Seminar: Dr. John Low

Event summary

When: Jun 5 12:00PM – 1:00PM See more dates

Location: Field Museum 1400 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

Ticketing: This event is Free

About this event

Hear about a variety of Native American topics from Dr. John Low.

Every week the A. Watson Armour III Research Seminar features invited speakers and their innovative research in natural history and culture.

Enjoy a lecture by Dr. John Low, Associate Professor of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University. A Q&A session will follow.

This event is free to attend, and museum admission is not required. Guests may enter through the West Entrance to join us in the A. Montgomery Ward Lecture Hall on the ground level.

Questions? Contact armourseminars@fieldmuseum.org.

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Columbus Dispatch Write Up: Exhibit: Polynesian tapa making showcased in display at OSU-Newark

Exhibit: Polynesian tapa making showcased in display at OSU-Newark

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