NU in Chicago brings students to city to explore history, culture of indigenous people

Fathma Rahman, Reporter

NU in Chicago will bring students downtown on Sunday to learn about indigenous people in Chicago through a collaboration with One Book One Northwestern and the Native American and Indigenous Students Alliance.

NU in Chicago is a committee in the Center for Civic Engagement focused on exposing students to the city in an accessible way. This free trip will allow students the opportunity to hear from the director of the American Indian Center in Chicago, eat and learn about native food, and participate in a walking ecology tour of the surrounding area led by a Northwestern postdoctoral student working with AIC, said NU in Chicago coordinator Steffi Brock-Wilson. This will be followed by a lecture from Chi-Nations Youth Council and a discussion about the use of indigenous symbols as mascots for sports team facilitated by Chi-Nations Youth Council, the Weinberg senior said.

“It should be a great glimpse into indigenous communities of Chicago and what it means to be a Native American in a city, particularly in the city of Chicago,” Brock-Wilson said.

The AIC was started because of the relocation program the government created in the 1950s, said Cyndee Fox-Starr, AIC special events coordinator. The plan was to move natives off reservations and into urban areas and to assist them with jobs, housing and how to grow up in urban settings, Fox-Starr said.

“Natives were promised housing, employment and training for up to six months so that they could get established here in the city and then eventually move their families here — all of which ended up being totally false information,” Fox-Starr said. “The support only lasted for 30 days. People coming from reservation areas had no idea how to survive in the city. Today, the center has become like our reservation in the city, and we are the place to come to continue practicing our culture.”

The AIC represents more than 160 of the 500 tribes recognized by the U.S. government. A large part of the AIC’s outreach mission is to enlighten others about Native American culture and history, Fox-Starr said.

“People think that we still live in teepees,” Fox-Starr said. “They look at us from what’s in their history books, which is not accurate, so we hope to bring them up to speed about what they should know about Native American culture.”

In line with this year’s One Book selection, “The Inconvenient Indian,” the program will continue the on-campus conversation about Native American culture through a more engaged form of learning, said One Book project coordinator Nancy Cunniff. November is also Native American heritage month, adding to the timeliness of the event, Cunniff said.

Cunniff also pointed out the day trip’s relevance to the theme of the “dead Indian” versus the “live Indian” in Thomas King’s book.

“People don’t even realize that there’s still very vibrant tribes with a vibrant language and culture,” Cunniff said. “They live in urban settings but they still have this identity, so by going there, you’ll learn what it means to be an urban Indian.”

The Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force suggested last fall that a future One Book selection should relate to issues of genocide or colonialism. The task force studied ways for NU to improve its relationship with the Native American community. The University commissioned a study committee to investigate the role University founder John Evans played in the Sand Creek Massacre, in which about 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed in the Colorado territory where Evans was governor.

“This (trip) is just an entry point,” Brock-Wilson said. “In the past few years we have been thinking about Northwestern’s history in relation to Native Americans and I think it’s really important for us to continue that conversation and act upon it.”

Twitter: @fathma_rahman