image: University of Chicago Magazine - logo

link to: featureslink to: class news, books, deathslink to: chicago journal, college reportlink to: investigationslink to: editor's notes, letters, chicagophile, course work
link to: back issueslink to: contact forms, address updateslink to: staff info, ad rates, subscriptions

  Written by
  Charlotte Snow

  Photography by
  Lloyd DeGrane


  > > Minds at work
  > > The stuff of tears
  > > Native Chicago

image: "Native Chicago" headlineContinued... During 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."

image: Red Path director E. Donald Two-Rivers Straus 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).

On 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.

Straus 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."

Perhaps 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.

link to: previous page link to: top of the page link to: "Native Chicago" main page


  > > Volume 92, Number 3

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > College Report

  > > Investigations

  > > Editor's Notes

  > > Letters
  > > Coursework
  > > Chicagophile



uchicago® ©2000 The University of Chicago® Magazine 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637
phone: 773/702-2163 fax: 773/702-2166