The IDHH is thrilled to once more partner with Analú María López, the Newberry’s Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian, for our first post this December. Analú’s work focuses on underrepresented Indigenous narratives dealing with identity, language, and decolonization, and we are pleased to feature her writing for a second time as she sheds light on the Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, an outgrowth of the American Indian Oral History projecthighlighted in last month’s blog post.
The Chicago American Indian Photography project by Analú María López
For a long time, photography has reinforced negative stereotypes of Indigenous people, oftentimes placing them in the past. When we think of “Native American” or “Indigenous photography”, we think of the cliché photographs by white photographers like Edward Curtis1, we don’t usually think of Native American or Indigenous photographers. Despite the fact that Indigenous People have long taken images of their communities, we rarely see these images uplifted or reflected in history texts, let alone in the history of photography. In fact, Indigenous Peoples embraced photography early in the nineteenth century. Some even owned and operated their own photography studios, such as the Purépecha photographer Antonio Calderón Sandoval and Tsimshian photographer Benjamin Haldane. As the photographer and educator, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Seminole-Muscogee-Diné) once wrote, “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanizing eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera and show how we see you.”
A collection of photographs titled the Chicago American Indian Photography project and Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition records, held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, an independent research library with a focus on rare books, manuscripts, and other archival materials, highlights the Native American community in Chicago through a series of photographs created by Native and some non-Native community members. These photographs are part of the Indigenous Studies collection, which was founded on the donation from Edward E. Ayer’s Library in 1911. Ayer, a white settler, was one of the Library’s original Trustees and one of the most active collectors of his time in the field of Indigenous Americana.
An outgrowth of the American Indian Oral History project which was highlighted in last month’s blog post, included the Chicago American Indian Photography project and the subsequent Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, held July 22-September 21, 1985 at the Newberry Library. These projects aimed to document the Native American community in Chicago by creating an archive of photographs taken by community members over a span of 20 years. The project’s selections were chosen by an advisory group, and while Indigenous women photographers made the final list, the advisory committee’s decisions may have been based on how long the photographers had been photographing in the community.
The final exhibition included six photographers of the Chicago Native American community: Dan Battise (Alabama-Coushatta), Ben Bearskin (Ho-Chunk), Orlando Cabanban (Filipino-American), Joe Kazumura (Japanese-American), F. Peter Weil, and Leroy Wesaw (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi).
At two community meetings and dinners, held at the American Indian center on May 22, 1985, audiences were shown the photographs taken by each of the photographers; three photographers were featured at each meeting. Many identifications of the individuals in the photographs were made during the viewing of the photographs. On July 26, 1985, an opening was planned to commemorate the start of the exhibition, and attempts were made to make it a community event. A neighborhood spiritual leader conducted a prayer, then dancers and singers performed. At least half of the 400 persons who attended the brief event were members of the Chicago Native American community.
Images of the photographers, Powwow celebrations, community events and clubs such as the Camera and Canoe Club are just a few images seen within this collection. The Camera Club, first founded in the 1960s, often met at the American Indian Center in Chicago twice a week on Thursdays and Saturdays. At one point, the Camera Club proposed building a traditional black and white darkroom where youth could learn how to print from negatives.
Despite some obstacles, such as timeline and prohibitive printing costs, the Chicago American Indian Photography project’s overall success, which led to the organization of the Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition, reflects a growing consciousness among Chicago’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that Indigenous histories must continue to be told and uplifted through the lens of the community.
1Edward Sheriff Curtis was an American photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and on Native American people. Curtis’ portraits reinforced the Vanishing Race myth: often, and problematically photographing Native people as ethnographic depictions of a “disappearing” people. The “Vanishing Race” myth derived its name from the caption of Edward Curtis’s photograph of Diné riders disappearing into the distance.
We would like to begin today by recognizing and acknowledging that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is on the lands of the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Piankashaw, Wea, Miami, Mascoutin, Odawa, Sauk, Mesquaki, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Chickasaw Nations. These lands were the traditional territory of these Native Nations prior to their forced removal; these lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity.
As a land-grant institution, the University of Illinois has a particular responsibility to acknowledge the peoples of these lands, as well as the histories of dispossession that have allowed for the growth of this institution for the past 150 years. We are also obligated to reflect on and actively address these histories and the role that this university has played in shaping them.
Located near the confluence of several waterways, the Newberry Library sits on land that intersects with the aboriginal homelands of several tribal nations: the Council of the Three Fires: the Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe Nations; the Illinois Confederacy: the Peoria and Kaskaskia Nations; and the Myaamia, Wea, Thakiwaki, and Meskwaki Nations. The Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Kiikaapoi, and Mascouten Nations also call the region of northeast Illinois home. Indigenous people continue to live in this area and celebrate their traditional teachings and lifeways. Today, Chicago is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous communities in the United States, and this land remains an important place for Indigenous peoples. As a Chicago institution, it is the Newberry’s responsibility to acknowledge this historical context and build reciprocal relationships with the tribal nations on whose lands we are situated.
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With the month coming to a close, the IDHH dedicates this post to Indigenous voices, highlighting November as National Native American Heritage Month. The earliest calls for a day to officially recognize and commemorate the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples occurred in 1915 at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association in Lawrence, Kansas. Over the course of a century, various states passed legislation declaring American Indian Day on different dates throughout the year, and national legislation and proclamations were also passed celebrating a Native American Awareness Week or American Indian Week. However, it was not until 1990, when George H. W. Bush declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month, that the United States officially committed a month to recognizing and commemorating the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples.
The IDHH is thrilled to partner with Analú María López, Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian at the Newberry, in the creation of this post and to benefit from her subject expertise. Analú’s work focuses on underrepresented Indigenous narratives dealing with identity, language, and decolonization, and she has chosen to feature a one-of-a-kind item from the Newberry’s collections which centers Indigenous peoples: the unpublished manuscript Native Voices in the City.
Native Voices in Zhekagoynak, Zhigaagoong, Šikaakonki by Analú María López
Zhekagoynak, Zhigaagoong, and Šikaakonki (“Chicago” in Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Myaamia respectively), has always been and will always be Indigenous land. Since time immemorial Indigenous people have lived on and stewarded this land we now call “Chicago.” Although Indigenous people were forcibly removed from the city of Chicago through a series of treaties,1 and in spite of settler-colonial projects seeking to remove Indigenous people from the city, Indigenous people have not vanished or ceded their relationships to Chicago. Today, Chicago is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous population in the United States, with more than 65,000 Native Americans in the greater metropolitan area and some 175 different tribes represented.2 And yet, settlers have often frozen Native Americans in the United States and specifically in the city of “Chicago” to the distant past, usually using settler narratives and not Indigenous histories, contributions and stories.
A collection of interviews held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, an independent research library with a focus on rare books, manuscripts, and other archival materials, highlights Native American urban experiences in “Chicago” through the vehicle of oral history. These interviews are part of the Indigenous Studies collection, which was founded on the donation from Edward E. Ayer’s Library in 1911. Ayer, a white settler, was one of the Library’s original Trustees and one of the most active collectors of his time in the field of Indigenous Americana.
In 1982 the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies (then called the D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian) submitted a proposal to the Illinois Humanities Council to initiate a collaborative oral history project with members of the Chicago Native American community. The resulting, “Chicago American Indian Oral History Project,” operated between 1982 and 1984. The interviews were first captured on reel-to-reel and cassette tape recordings; they were later transcribed. The project interviewers and organizers3 gathered the memories of twenty-three Chicago Native American residents over the course of two years. The persons interviewed reflected the diversity of the Chicago Native American community, with individuals primarily from the northern and central Great Plains, as well as the western Great Lakes. The transcripts were then combined into an unpublished typescript titled “Native Voices in the City,” incorporating excerpts from the original interviews.
Although many community members and Newberry staff were involved in the project, Dorene Wiese (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) of Truman College played an instrumental role in the directing of the oral history project –
This project intended to document Native American relocation to the city of Chicago with perspectives from individuals who came to the city during the Relocation era of the 1950s.4 The project also aimed to tape and transcribe the interviews with elders who best remembered all the stages of the evolution of the community, in hopes that the project would continue and to create a wider awareness of the history of Native American people in Chicago. An advisory board composed mainly of Chicago Native American people oversaw the project; it trained and utilized Chicago Native American community members as interviewers; and it held three public forums to publicize and promote the documentation project.
While relocation to the city offered opportunities to some individuals, many Native American families found it difficult to relocate to the city, and this had a direct impact on the demographics of the Native population in Chicago: “The experience for Native American people who came to Chicago can easily be divided into two groups: those who experienced the city and decided to return home and those who decided to stay. The latter are the people who make up the population of approximately 13,000 in Chicago” (p. 16, Native Voices in the City). The relocation program was frequently chastised for making hollow promises, as evidenced by the manuscript’s numerous first-person accounts. Housing insecurity, food apartheid within neighborhoods, and a lack of opportunities for the Native American community in Chicago, still problems in the city to this day, can be traced back to the 1950s government colonial efforts designed to drive Native Americans to assimilate into dominant white society.
1The Chicago area was directly affected by five of the approximately 370 ratified treaties between the federal government and Native American nations signed from 1778 to 1871. Native American treaty making ended by law in 1871, but an additional 73 “agreements” containing similar provisions were ratified up to 1911. Treaties involving the Chicago area were signed in 1795, 1816, 1821, 1829, and 1833. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago
The IDHH would again like to thank Analú María López for sharing her expertise and insight this National Native American Heritage Month into the unique item that is the unpublished Native Voices in the City manuscript. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with her on this post, and look forward to featuring Analú’s work next month with a related post about the 1985 Seeing Indian in Chicago exhibition. Stay tuned for that post in the coming weeks, and enjoy a teaser image from the digital collection “Seeing Indian in Chicago Exhibition Records” below!