Meet the three new board members at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian


Photo courtesy of The Mitchell Museum of The American Indian

The Mitchell Museum of The American Indian on Central Street. In February, the museum announced three new Chicago area Native peoples would be joining the executive board.

Yiming Fu, City Editor

Three Native American community leaders in the Chicago area will join the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian’s board of directors, the museum announced in February. 

This marks the first time the majority of the museum’s board of directors and staff are Native American, American Indian or First Nations peoples. 

Kim Vigue, the museum’s executive director, said all three new board members are members of the Cherokee nation. She said all three have a deep knowledge of local tribes and experience working with Indigenous peoples across the nation. 

Stephanie Perdew: A dynamic faith leader and centering diversity and inclusion

Stephanie Perdew is an affiliate professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a minister at the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ and an interfaith leader in the Chicago area. She describes her role at the United Church of Christ as a “pastor to other pastors,” connecting pastors looking for new jobs with churches looking for pastors. 

She lives in Evanston, enjoys tending to her yard garden and aims to attend every Northwestern basketball and football game she can. 

Barbara Perdew, 87, is Stephanie’s mother. She said Stephanie’s drive and intelligence has been apparent since she was a kid. 

“I’m a high school dropout who went back and got my college degree when I was 60 years old,” Barbara Perdew said. “To see her have the opportunities for education that she’s had and the ways she’s handled all that is just amazing to me.”

Stephanie Perdew is working with the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Evanston to create an Indigenous food luncheon. The event will showcase a Native chef and teach people about food sovereignty and farming and eating Indigenous foods. 

Audrey Moy, one of Stephanie Perdew’s longtime friends, is working with Stephanie Perdew to develop the luncheon and has worked with her in efforts to promote diversity and inclusion across Evanston and Wilmette. One of these efforts included a program on Native American history at the Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Moy said Stephanie Perdew was a dynamic, engaging speaker and led one of the most well-received sessions, drawing an audience of about 80 people over Zoom. 

“She is one of the most genuine, honest and authentic people you will ever meet,” Moy said. “Her imprint stays with you. Her character. Her integrity.” 

Stephanie Perdew said she is motivated by the intersection of Christian faith and her Cherokee spirituality. She said many Indigenous people are taught to think ahead seven generations. 

“I’m the seventh generation from the Trail of Tears,” she said. “I think a lot about my ancestors who walked that trail. What did they think was even going to be possible in seven generations? Do they think there would be a second generation, let alone a seventh generation?” 

The Trail of Tears, or “the trail where we cried” in Cherokee language, was part of the U.S. government’s ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Native peoples in the 1800s. About 100,000 Indigenous people were removed from their homeland and forced onto new land with little resources, and thousands of  people died on the journey itself.

Stephanie Perdew said her grandfather’s great-grandfather walked the Trail of Tears, and she said she carries the seventh generation principle with her.

“What’s the world we want the seventh generation to inherit?” Perdew said. “And what are we going to do to try to ensure that that’s a sustainable world? That it’s even an inhabitable world? That’s what keeps me going every day —  asking those questions.”

George Stevenson: A “renaissance man” with a heart of gold

George Stevenson was born in northeastern Oklahoma in Indian territory and has been living in Evanston for more than 40 years. He is the former chairman of Stevenson & Company, a local advisory firm that assists corporations with sale and acquisition. 

Cliff Deremo, Stevenson’s former business partner and current president of Stevenson & Company, said Stevenson’s kindness and listening skills stand out. He said Stevenson would listen for 15 minutes before speaking in client meetings, and Stevenson was well-known, well-liked and well-respected by clients and coworkers.

“He’s honest. He doesn’t take advantage of people. He looks to make win-win solutions in our business,” Deremo said. “And there’s a lot of people in that world that are just trying to make a quick buck or just take advantage of the situation.”

Stevenson said his brand reputation is key and he measures his company’s success by his clients’ satisfaction. He said his advice to others would be to show love and compassion, and to maintain a balance between work, family, friends and play. 

Deremo also described Stevenson as a “Renaissance man” because of his wide range of talents. 

“He has so many eclectic tastes and interest in things,” Deremo said. “He writes poetry. He does Taekwondo. He’ll take trips and drive to the West Coast because he wanted to drive cross-country … He always had fun and was never in a bad mood.”

Wilmette resident Bob Taylor has been friends with Stevenson for more than 50 years. He said Stevenson is generous and kind, and he appreciated Stevenson’s warmth when his wife passed away. 

“(Stevenson) and his wife brought food over to me, and I’ve had breakfast on numerous occasions with them,” Taylor said. “They checked in on me with a spur of the moment telephone phone calls because they were thinking about me. It meant a lot.”

Andrew Johnson: A powerful state legislature advocate 

Chicago resident Andrew Johnson is the executive director of the Native American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois and the chairperson of the Native American Employment Plan Advisory Council. The council aims to increase access to state employment for Native Americans in Illinois. Johnson also worked to pass Illinois S.B. 727, or the Native American Employment Plan Act, which seeks to increase the amount of Native Americans employed in state agencies. 

“He’s kind of like our link to Springfield,” said Shelly Tucciarelli, the executive director of Visionary Ventures, an organization that connects disadvantaged Native Americans with affordable housing. She is also a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

Tucciarelli said she first met Johnson nearly 10 years ago when he was the executive director of American Indian Center of Chicago. She said he’s uniquely smart with numbers and a great person to work with. 

Doreen Wiese is the president of the American Indian Association of Illinois and is an enrolled White Earth Ojibwe tribal citizen. She also first met Johnson when he was the director of the American Indian Center of Chicago. They’ve worked on policy issues in the state together since then. The pair worked on the Indian Child Welfare Act and a bill that requires Illinois schools to teach Native American curriculum in the 2023-24 school year. 

“We’ve never been able to move policy in the state mainly because we’re an invisible population, and people don’t know anything about us American Indians, and there are no reservations in the state,” Wiese said.

While more than 70% of Native Amerians live in urban areas, Wiese said urban American Indians receive only 1% of the national funding for American Indian peoples. Chicago, for example, is larger than most reservations, but she said the city gets no government funding for housing, social services or schools.  

Wiese said Johnson has been remarkably effective at creating change for Illinois Native Americans and moving policy forward because he builds relationships with people at the state level. 

Johnson said he will continue fostering Native American talent through mentorship programs and pipelines to create a more diverse and representative workforce in state government. 

“I still had the desire to give back,” Johnson said. “I think that’s inherent in almost every Native that I have met, part of your DNA is that reciprocity.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @yimingfuu

Related Stories: 

Mitchell Museum welcomes three new Native American board members

Local museums increase virtual presence, connect with communities as doors reopen

Mitchell Museum honors American Indian contributions to art, culture and activism at 12th annual awards ceremony