Sept. 20, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 1

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    Native Americans to celebrate heritage

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    The colors, sounds and rhythms of a Native American powwow will fill the Midway Plaisance this weekend as thousands of Chicagoans gather to celebrate American Indian history and culture at the Eschikagou Powwow.

    The free event, which will include dancing, singing, drumming, storytelling and craft making, will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, on the Midway (between 59th and 60th streets) at Dorchester Avenue in Hyde Park.

    This year’s powwow will mark the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant events in 20th-century Indian history—the American Indian Chicago Conference. Organized by the late Sol Tax, Professor in Anthropology, the conference took place at the University in June 1961.

    In the early 1950s, the federal government began “terminating” tribes, no longer recognizing them as sovereign governments. Tax, a top academic expert on American Indians, was asked to make policy suggestions at this critical time, known as the “termination period.”

    Tax insisted that Native Americans, not he, should be consulted. He invited more than 400 representatives from 90 tribal groups to Chicago to help prepare the “Declaration of Indian Purpose,” the first unified position statement on Native Americans’ relationship to the U.S. government. In celebration of their achievement, the conference participants held a powwow on the University’s Old Stagg Field.

    “Tax had respect for the integrity of Native American communities during the era when the idea of the melting pot was popular,” said Terry Straus, Professor in the Master of Arts Program in Social Science and a former doctoral student of Tax’s. “As an Indian view of Indian policy, the declaration has influenced American Indian affairs ever since.”

    Beginning in 1998, Straus held small annual powwows at the University as part of her class “Topics in Native America: The Powwow.”

    In 2000, she brought in the not-for-profit organization Gathering of Nations to coordinate the event. Derek Mathews, a Hyde Park native, founded this American Indian group. Only when Straus and Mathews met in person did they realize they already knew each other: Straus had been Mathews’ 10th-grade history teacher at Hyde Park’s Harvard School.

    Mathews has been producing annual powwows in Albuquerque, N.M., since 1983. The Albuquerque powwow is reportedly the world’s largest, drawing more than 100,000 people each year.

    “The Eschikagou Powwow is my way of bringing the culture I love home to Chicago,” said Mathews. “It offers the opportunity for everyone to learn more about Native American culture and even seek an understanding of their own background.”

    Sponsored by the University of Chicago and the Chicago Park District, the Eschikagou Powwow is named after the trading post Eschikagou, which later became Chicago.

    The powwow on the Midway Plaisance will open both days with a “Grand Entry,” a procession of dancers following American and tribal flags carried by veterans. Miss Indian World, Ke Aloha Alo, will lead the procession.

    On Saturday, the Grand Entry will include a memorial ceremony for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks. The Rev. Evelyn White Eye, a Chippewa Indian from Walpole Island, Ontario, will say a prayer, and the Whitefish Juniors, a drum group from Saskatchewan, will perform an honor song.

    The dancing contests and singing/drumming competitions are expected to draw thousands of top-quality performers from throughout North America. At the Indian Traders’ Market, approved vendors will sell authentic Native American crafts and food.

    The Black Indian Society, an organization that helps African Americans and others with Indian heritage trace their genealogy, also will have a booth at the event.

    “Many, many African Americans and Hispanics have Native American ancestors, who are documented in letters, photographs, oral history or other evidence,” said Sultan Latif, vice president of the society.

    “We may not have come here on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat.”

    The free powwow is part of the World Music Festival: Chicago 2001 and will feature Clan/destine, a Native American group known for its eclectic mix of rock, folk and reggae.

    The powwow will be held about 100 yards from the site where the Indian Village exhibition stood during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.