by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
CHICAGO - Eighty-six year old, Susan Kelly Power, tribal member of the Yaktaonai Dakota from Standing Rock, South Dakota is a respected American Indian elder who has lived in Chicago since 1942.
Susan Power - Yaktaonai Dakota
So when she stood up to talk during the question and answer session right after the keynote address by Dr. Donald Fixico at the “American Indian Urban Families and Communities: Living Cultures, Education, Social Work and Policy” conference at the University of Chicago on Saturday, all American Indians and others in attendance gave her their utmost respect.
Her long career and contributions that span over six decades garner the respect.
Power attended the Chicago Conference in 1950 that brought together American Indians living in Chicago at the time together to discuss common issues and concerns of the time.
“As bad as things were for Indians back then, triple the problems we have now!”
proclaimed Power. There are 21,559 American Indians living in Chicago according to the latest census figures from the 2010 census that was released in February.
Donald Fixico - Shawnee, Sac & Fox,
Muscogee Creek and Seminole
During the keynote address, Dr. Fixico presented an overview of the urbanization of American Indians, which began in 1952 when the federal government made a concerted effort to have American Indians from rural and reservations to move to urban centers around the United States, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, among others.
Dr. Fixico (Shawnee, Sac & Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole), is a Distinguished Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University.
“The relocation policy was one of two major policies that have impacted Americans Indian in the last century. The other was the termination policy period thirty-one years earlier in 1931,” said Dr. Fixico.
The termination policy period was a time when the federal government felt it better is American Indians were assimilated into mainstream society; therefore, the government tried to terminate the special relationships Indian tribes had with the United States government.
“Native Americans had to reinvent themselves. All of the sudden, they no longer had land to identify with, so they had to define themselves through home space that may have included a house they owned or an apartment they rented,”
“Identity is imagined. In Chicago, urban Indians have had to reimagine space.”
Subsequently, American Indians became virtually invisible in urban places, according to Dr. Fixico. They got lost within mainstream, many times.
Power, who has worked tirelessly for American Indians in Chicago through her long dedicated commitment to her community, recounted how she has lived in the same apartment building in the city for 37 years and still feels isolated. There is only one woman who she feels close enough to talk to on an on-going basis. The woman happens to be Jewish.
Power was one of 140 who registered for the conference hosted by the School of Social Services Administration at the University of Chicago. Other sponsors of the conference included the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, OMSA Multicultural Student Affairs and the Native American Student Association.
Jordan Gurneau with his Mother
Sandra Taylor and Aunt Sharon Taylor
Jordan Gurneau, tribal member of the St. Croix Chippewa Tribe of Wisconsin, was born and raised in Chicago, attended the conference. Gurneau was recently elected to the board of directors of the Chicago Indian Center attended to learn more about urban American Indians. He was impressed with Dr. Fixico’s keynote speech.
Tomorrow Part II - a look at “Challenges faced by Chicago American Indians”
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