2000 (print version)
Action anthropologist Terry Straus works with
the city's Native Americans as they strive to preserve their heritage
and determine their future.
five years ago,
Roxy Grignon heard someone calling her name from outside her Chicago
apartment. Looking down from her second-floor window, she saw a young
woman. When Grignon buzzed the woman up, she realized that she was holding
a baby. The mother told her how she was struggling with drugs and had
spent the night on the street. Grignon felt she had to help, as both
she and the mother shared a Native-American heritage and had known each
other previously on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. With
three grown daughters of her own, Grignon became a licensed foster parent
and has since adopted the boy.
As word spread, Grignon soon got more such pleas for help. Overwhelmed,
she began asking other Native Americans to serve as foster parents.
Then in 1997, the former entrepreneur and probation officer formed the
Native American Foster Parents Association (NAFPA), which has since
helped license 21 Native-American foster homes throughout Illinois,
with 59 licenses pending.
group has also designed a curriculum for social workers and juvenile-court
personnel on Native-American culture and the intent of the 1978 Indian
Child Welfare Act, which sought to end decades of placing Native-American
children in non-Native-American homes. A recent meeting with the Illinois
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is expected to establish
a protocol for linking the more than 130 Native-American children in
the state's foster-care system with Native-American families. "This
is important for the children's culture and their identity," says Grignon,
"and for the future of our people."
Anne Terry Sawyier Straus, AM'70, PhD'76, advises NAFPA on financial
and legal issues, helps it recruit Native Americans to serve as foster
parents, and advocates on its behalf. The group, says Straus, a University
of Chicago professorial lecturer, is an example of the vibrancy and
renewed activism of the city's Native Americans at the end of the 20th
century. "They are forcing the issue of who should raise Indian children,"
she says, "and they are the only group that has set about to educate
social workers about the law and to recruit foster parents. Their work
shows how this is an era of self-determination for Indian people."
served as one of the University's first Harper fellows from 1975 to
1978, Straus--who goes by Terry--returned to the faculty five years
ago to teach graduate courses on Native-American topics. Though she
often travels to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana (and runs
a beef-cattle ranch on the neighboring Crow Indian Reservation, some
20 miles up a dirt road in the Wolf Mountains), her work is focused
on Chicago's urban Native Americans.
her motto of "practice what you teach," she's active as a volunteer,
adviser, and advocate in the city's community of 7,000 Native Americans
from more than 100 tribal backgrounds. In addition to her work with
NAFPA, she serves on the national advisory council of the Newberry Library's
D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History and is vice president
of the board of directors of the Red Path Theater Company of Chicago.
former dean of Chicago's Native American Educational Services (NAES)
College, she has published several books on the history and literary
life of the city's Native Americans. Says Native-American writer and
Red Path director E. Donald Two-Rivers: "She has been a trusted member
of our community for as long as I can remember. I have always regarded
her as a trusted educator and diplomat for our issues."
54-year-old Straus, a third-generation Hyde Parker who is not Native
American, grew up on 56th Street in a gray frame house between Kenwood
and Dorchester. Today, she and her husband, Albert K. Straus, a surgeon
at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, live on that same block
and have sent all four of their children to the Lab Schools. The University
named a professorship in the humanities after her grandmother, actress
Phyllis Fay Horton, AB'15, and her parents--Winston & Strawn attorney
Calvin P. Sawyier, AB'42, AM'42, and Illinois Institute of Technology
professor emerita Fay Horton Sawyier, AB'44, PhD'64--met as U of C students.
Her mother, she says, was a role model and encouraged her "as a pre-women's-movement
daughter to do and be anything I might dream of."
first became interested in Native-American history and culture as an
undergraduate at Barnard, after reading E. Adamson Hoebel's The Cheyennes:
Indians of the Great Plains (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960). She
says she was so impressed by the Cheyennes' highly organized and sophisticated
society, running on different rules from her own, that she chose to
write her B.A. paper on the tribe. She then decided to pursue graduate
work in anthropology at the U of C, where she read another eye-opening
book, Vine Deloria Jr.'s Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
(Macmillan, 1969). Now regarded as a classic repudation of white society's
stereotypes of Native Americans, Deloria's book includes a withering
chapter that mocks the methodology and the purpose of anthropologists.
"It would be wise for anthropologists to get down from their thrones
of authority and PURE research and begin helping Indian tribes instead
of preying on them," he concludes. As a young anthropologist just
starting out, Straus found Deloria's words impossible to ignore. "I
was sensitive to that criticism," says Strauss. "I found an
answer in Dr. Sol Tax's work."
A specialist in the social anthropology of Native Americans and
founder of the journal Current Anthropology, Tax, PhD'35, advised
Straus on her doctoral thesis. The late professor is credited with establishing
the practice of action anthropology in the 1950s while conducting fieldwork
with his Chicago students among Fox Indians in an Iowa settlement. Tax
and the students found evidence of internal dissension caused by outside
pressures from the white community and wanted to help ease the tension.
But realizing it was not their place to enforce changes, they instead
provided advice as the tribal members defined their own problems and
sought solutions. Working in this manner, they helped the Fox devise
a plan that led to the creation of educational programs, a community
center, and a crafts business.
June 1961, Tax took the practice of action anthropology further when,
working with the National Congress of American Indians, he organized
the American Indian Chicago Conference, held at the University. The
eight-day conference, funded by grants from the University and private
foundations, drew hundreds of Native Americans, representing more than
80 tribes. The conference included a celebratory powwow and produced
a declaration calling for the federal government to provide aid to help
Native Americans address worsening conditions on reservations. A teenager
at the time, Straus recalls watching the proceedings from a distance,
realizing that "something very important was going on there."
example helped Straus reconcile her desire to study Native Americans
as an anthropologist with Deloria's call for a more participatory approach.
"Tax had respect for the integrity of communities and of people other
than himself during the era when the idea of the melting pot was popular,"
says Straus. "He understood and learned from Native-American people
that this was not the way it was going to be. He had a message and he
converted me. Much of anthropology at that time was into applying organizational
and theoretical frameworks to subjects. He was into learning from people
what needed to be learned rather than approaching them with set ideas."
says she views a major theme of her work as the education of non-Native
Americans about Native-American culture and life. She ticks off the
facts she thinks every U.S. citizen should know about Native Americans
today: "Indian" is a legal and political status, not a race. Indians
have essentially a dual-citizenship status. Tribes all have separate
governments. They have their own tribal constitutions. They are different
from each other, but have some things in common because of their relationship
to the federal government. They are contemporary people. They do not
have strong numbers--there are only about two million Native Americans
in the United States--but they can speak effectively about their concerns.
They are very diverse, and more than half live in urban settings. They
are not all rich because of casinos.
facts are important for the public to know, she says, because "with
broad powers in regard to Indian tribes held in the U.S. Congress, tribal
rights become everyone's responsibility."
campus, Straus has furthered her goal of educating others about Native
Americans as a lecturer in the University's Master of Arts Program in
the Social Sciences (MAPSS), which she joined in 1995 after two years
as a senior researcher at the American Indian Economic Development Association
in Chicago. During a January meeting of her winter quarter class, Anthropology
320: Topics on Native America: Indian Civil Rights Act, she reviewed
with 13 students a series of early Supreme Court decisions significant
to native peoples, highlighting one that has had repercussions through
modern times. Written by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1831, it established
the legal foundations for the present-day trust relationship between
the federal government and Native Americans, with these words referring
to the Cherokee: "Meanwhile they are in a state of pupilage. Their relation
to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian."
explained the concept to the class in a manner both businesslike and
down-to-earth, like her attire of teal business suit and black walking
shoes. The passage, she said, portrayed Native Americans as "cognitively
disabled adults or young children not capable of handling their own
situations, their own land in particular. A straight-out statement of
paternalism is pretty clearly here." But, she noted, Native Americans
have found ways to use this passage to their advantage. "Today, the
trust relationship is important in safeguarding the special legal and
political status of Indian tribes," she explained. "Tribes have used
it to hold the government liable in its fiduciary responsibilities to
Indians. Tribes have turned the burden of paternalism into a strength."
the classroom, Straus has worked to bring Native-American culture to
campus. Currently, she's assisting curators Robert G. Donnelley, AM'97,
and Richard A. Born, AM'75, with an upcoming Smart Museum exhibit of
works by the Native-American artist Silver Horn. Titled Transforming
Images: The Art of Silver Horn and His Successors, the April 13-June
11 exhibit will showcase Silver Horn's ledger book drawings and hide
paintings, including a collection from the Field Museum of Natural History
that has never been shown publicly. The works record the history and
culture of Kiowa Plains Indian life at the turn of the century.
the past two years, Straus has provided students in her anthropology
classes with a more interactive Native-American cultural experience.
Each spring quarter class has organized an on-campus powwow, including
the performance of traditional Native-American dances and songs. The
1998 event was held on the Midway Plaisance in June to commemorate the
1961 powwow. Last year, the event grew from a small cultural demonstration
to include more than 20 dancers, representing as many tribes, and two
drum groups. Straus is now working with students and the Gathering of
Nations, an Albuquerque-based powwow-planning organization, to bring
to the Midway what she hopes will be a powwow nearly as large as that
held in 1961. She expects the free and open-to-the-public event to attract
several hundred dancers and as many as 70 crafts vendors during the
last weekend in September.
Straus hopes that classes on Native-American issues, the Silver Horn
exhibit, the Midway powwows, and other such efforts will help to acknowledge
the presence of Native Americans at the University and to attract more
Native-American students. (According to the registrar, 19 Native Americans
are currently enrolled at the U of C.) Also to that end, she advises
the Native American Students Association, which grew out of her students'
past powwow organizing efforts.
president Jessica Hansbrough, a fourth-year anthropology concentrator,
says the purpose of the group is to help connect Native-American students
to each other, and to connect all students to the city's Native-American
community. Its 30 members, she says, are a mix of Native-American students
and other graduate and undergraduate students who are studying Native-American
topics or are generally interested in Native-American culture. In early
February, the group planned to bring White Hawk, a local Native-American
drum group, to the C-Shop's weekly music showcase, the Flow.
Tax did for her, Straus provides University students with a model for
applying their studies. "She works with students in a very active, personable,
and engaging manner," says Hansbrough, who participated in the 1998
powwow as a second-year in Straus's anthropology class. "She's always
very casual with you and encourages you to become more active in your
field of study. Every class she does requires fieldwork and planning
for and attending an event, like the powwow." And, revealing perhaps
just how much to heart she has taken Straus's philosophy of action,
she adds: "As an anthropology student in Native-American issues, how
can I not be involved with NASA?"
to her own walking-the-talk motto, Straus continues to look beyond Hull
Gate for ways to help Chicago's larger Native-American community. She
has supported efforts at the Newberry Library to record the history
of the community, including helping to plan its Chicago Oral History
Project, and is now compiling a book of Native-American children's writings.
In addition to a number of published articles--always written with a
Native-American co-author--she has edited two collections of essays
by community members on the history and contemporary life of local Native
Americans. She collaborated with former student Grant P. Arndt, AB'94,
AM'97, on the latest collection, Native Chicago (MAPSS, 1998),
which presents an urban Native-American community with a long and varied
before the settlement of modern-day Chicago began, the essays explain,
the area had been home at one time or another to many Native-American
nations, including the Illini, Miami, Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa.
During the 18th century, the Potawatomi tribe rose to prominence with
their fur-trading expertise. Tensions mounted when native peoples joined
with the British during the War of 1812 to burn down Chicago's Fort
Dearborn. The fort was rebuilt, but conflict flared again in the 1830s,
this time leading to the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which forced all Native
Americans in the area to move to Iowa.
earliest U.S. census records indicate that by 1890 fewer than a dozen
Native Americans lived in the city. Native Americans came to Chicago
in large numbers during World War II and afterward in search of jobs
and as a result of a federal relocation program designed to move Native
Americans off of rural reservations and into urban areas. The new arrivals
eventually congregated in the city's Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods,
where a number of meeting places and social-service organizations geared
to their needs sprang up and are still active today.
is within these organizations--like NAFPA, which recently opened storefront
offices in Ravenswood--that Straus has applied her training as an action
anthropologist, helping Native Americans identify and solve problems
in their community.
the mid-1980s, after serving on the grand council of the American Indian
Center of Chicago, Straus became a full-time faculty member and later
dean at NAES College. NAES was founded in 1974 to serve the higher-education
needs of Native Americans in Chicago, Minneapolis, and two reservation
communities. The school's Chicago campus is located in a nondescript
office building along Peterson Avenue on the city's Northwest side.
In the lobby stands a glass case filled with rows of found objects displaying
grossly stereotypical images of Native Americans: Redman tobacco, Pocahontas
kosher dill pickles, Chief Oshkosh beer, Chief paint and varnish thinner,
"Indian-salted" pumpkin seeds. In contrast to this jolting display,
authentic Native-American powwow songs are piped through the building's
sound system, and office shelves display handcrafted Native-American
one evening class in January, 24-year-old Netawn Kiogima, who is Blackfoot,
Sioux, Ottawa, and Ojibwa, told her five classmates that she's there
to learn the Ojibwe language so that she may one day teach it. Her husband,
29-year-old Robert Smith, who is Ojibwa and Assiniboine, leads the college's
Urban Natives of Chicago youth group. While his wife attended class,
he played with their 13-month-old daughter in the youth group's office.
"NAES gears your education toward whatever interests you," says Smith,
who's also working toward a degree at the college. "It puts you in touch
with the community. It directly asks you to work on it and serve it
in some capacity. Your education ends up being what you want it to be.
Here you fuel your own learning."
her nearly ten-year tenure at the college, Straus helped design the
school's core curriculum, which includes a mandatory field project.
She also focused much of her efforts on recruitment, considering higher
education key to Native-American self-determination. "There has been
a huge increase in the number of Indian college students and graduate
students in the past decade," she notes, "meaning that the leadership
in Indian communities can more and more rely on Indian professionals."
has also played an active role in mapping the direction of Red Path,
founded in 1994 to encourage the city's Native Americans to recognize
the importance of their cultural heritage through drama. Born in an
Uptown basement, the company is now headquartered at Truman College
and has staged performances and readings of folktales set on reservations,
in the workplace, and on urban streets. Two-Rivers, the company's founding
artistic director, won a 1999 American Book Award for Survivor's
Medicine: Short Stories (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998).
a recent snowy January night, Two-Rivers headlined the weekly open-mike
poetry reading at Café Aloha, located a few blocks from NAFPA. He shared
a selection from his new three-part poetry play, Peeking out of Amerika's
Museums, a spirited meditation on Native-American identity, urban
Native-American life, and threats to the environment. The moody, at
times humorous, tone of the poem the Ojibwa tribal member chose to read
in the alcohol-free bar run by Bosnian proprietors was enhanced by the
accompaniment of a friend playing jazz on a Yamaha keyboard. In the
dim and smoky room, he described "pigeonholes in the early dawn" and
the tension his character feels with a cop who calls him "Chief." As
an encore, he read one of his earliest poems, "I'm Not Tonto." His long,
thick black hair salted with gray swished back and forth as he punctuated
his point that he's not "a Hollywood Indian" aiming to please.
is now working with Two-Rivers on a Red Path program to nurture Native-American
children's aesthetic appreciation for theater. They earlier co-edited
Skins: Drum Beats From City Streets (Barrick & Associates, 1994),
a collection of local Native-American poetry. "The verbal arts have
been a longtime interest and strength in Indian communities but they
haven't always been stressed in urban Indian communities," says
Straus. "It's exciting because now it's in the waves. It's important
for people writing about the Indian experience that some comes from
the urban Indian experience."
recalling Deloria's admonitions regarding the arrogance of anthropologists,
Straus is reluctant to speak on behalf of the city's Native Americans
about the future of their community. But she hasn't given up the tenets
of the action anthropology his words first pushed her toward: She's
quick to note that she's meeting later in the day with a group of attorneys
interested in forming a Chicago firm that specializes in Native-American
issues. "It's a fledgling group but it demonstrates the exciting potential
of the community," she says. And it provides Straus with yet another
chance to practice what she teaches.