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  Written by
  Charlotte Snow

  Photography by
  Lloyd DeGrane

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  > > Minds at work
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  > > Native Chicago

image: "Native Chicago" headlineContinued... As 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?"

image: Robert Smith and Netawn Kiogima (Lloyd DeGrane)True 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 history.

Long 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.

The 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.

It 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.

In 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 artifacts.

During 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."

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