Category Archives: Global Indigenous Peoples

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.

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

Ohio Mounds Top USA’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Bid

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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Chinese Undergraduate Students Visit The Great Circle

On August 1st, I had the honor of giving a tour of the Great Circle to a group of about 30 Chinese undergraduate students who were visiting the area.

China Students at Great Circle 2019 B

Professor Pat McAloon hosted the group and sent the below kind comments shared here with his permission:

John, Thank you very much for sharing the Earthworks with our guests yesterday. Your ability to share with us the perspectives of the First Peoples really changed the way we look at the Newark Earthworks, especially how we should keep in mind that dirt is a sacred medium and we should not evaluate the earthworks using our “civilized” preference for stone.

Gifting tobacco to the earthworks was also a great way to make the experience an experience.

China Students at Great Circle 2019

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.

Podcast and Video of My Talk at Moraine Valley Community College: The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the City of Chicago

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the City of Chicago: Special Guest Dr. John Low

Dr. John Low from the Ohio State University will be speaking about this book Imprints: the Potawatomi Indians & the City of Chicago (2016, Michigan State University Press). Dr. Low will examine the ways some Pokagon Potawatomi tribal members have maintained a distinct Native identity in Chicago, their rejection of assimilation and their desire for inclusion without forfeiting their “Indianness.” This event is part of our campus programming to commemorate the Illinois bicentennial.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the City of Chicago: Special Guest Dr. John Low?

The audio of this discussion is available below:

Visit our podcast page
Listen in iTunes
Download the MP3 audio

“The Power of Place: The Indigenous Peoples of Northeastern Illinois; the Fox River Valley”; 11/15/18 at Aurora University (IL)

Lecture: John N. Low, PhD

Thursday, November 15, 2018, 7 p.m.

Aurora Flyer

Join Pokagon Potawatomi Indian John N. Low as he discusses the history of the use of a vast network of trails and portages in Northeastern Illinois between two great water systems: the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

Indigenous peoples had long settled in villages in what is now northeastern Illinois, prior to contact with Europeans.  Northeastern Illinois was one of the best places to portage between two great water systems: the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. Native peoples could paddle to the St. Lawrence River or Allegheny River in the east, and on to the Atlantic Ocean or south to the Gulf of Mexico or to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the west. Native Americans understood the importance of this geography and took advantage of this portage system to trade goods for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. Today’s residents of Aurora and surrounding communities also know the richness of the soil and the resources that made the region a very special place to live.