Edited by Terry Straus
Albatross Press | 525 pp | $17.99
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
During the 1950s, the federal government implemented the Urban Indian Relocation Program that moved American Indians from reservations to cities, such as Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
The program was initiated to assimilate American Indians into the general population. The thought was to move American Indians from the reservation settings to the cities to gain vocational training and land jobs. For those American Indians who had families and relocated, the reasoning held that their children would get educated and they would become "Americanized" and live happy thereafter.
The 1950s decade also produced such idealistic worldviews perpetuated by television shows such as, "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave it to Beaver" where all problems faced by Americans could be solved quickly within confines of half-hour stories.
Of course, Hollywood and real life don't necessarily mesh. Nor do some federal programs. They don't necessarily mesh well with real life; nor are problems solved quickly.
Such was the case with the Urban Indian Relocation Program. American Indians who relocated from reservations were not instantaneously Americanized.
While there were some success stories among some of the American Indians who moved to the urban settings, there were many situations where Indians ended up on Skid Rows in large concrete metropolises.
The Urban Indian Relocation Program participants were given money for transportation and some soft money for lodging until a job could be secured and permanent housing could be found.
"Native Chicago," the second edition, edited by Terry Straus, provides various perspectives into the lives of those who left reservations and arrived to face the harsh realities of living in large metropolis of Chicago.
The relocation story of American Indians is only a portion of the stories contained in "Native Chicago." The book consists of two major parts: Part I - Communal Roots and Part II - Contemporary Life.
The relocation entries are in the section of part I - Communal Roots called 20th Century Chicago. One particular entry, "Relocation: Indian Life on Skid Row" by Ed Goodvoice, has stayed with me since I read it. Mr. Goodvoice, who relocated from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota to Chicago, writes a candid self-portrayal of survival on the streets of the Windy City.
Mr. Goodvoice writes:
"Today, however, this writer, who lived on Skid Row for approximately seventeen years, cannot count more than five survivors from that era. Because of excessive drinking, nutritional deficit, and the lack of proper rest, the resistance of the body to many kinds of diseases (tuberculosis, cirrhosis, and other) was lowered."
Yet, the Urban Indian Relocation Program is only part of the Chicago American Indian story. "Native Chicago" provides an excellent overview of different aspects of how American Indians have historically fit into the Chicago landscape. "Native Chicago" offers various views through the eyes of several authors who contributed to this volume.
In the two generations since Relocation, many American Indians who came to Chicago during the era have received their educations and found employment.
Many good American Indians have worked hard to live in a two-culture society among the skyscrapers and ethnic neighborhoods throughout the sprawling Chicago landscape. Through organizations, such as the American Indian Center of Chicago and several others, they labor diligently to teach the Native languages, dance, art and other aspects of American Indian culture.
They care about issues that impact American Indians in negative ways, such as the Indian mascot issue. "Native Chicago" contains a couple of chapters that deal with this issue.
"Native Chicago" is an excellent book for those interested in understanding how urban American Indians have survived and survive in contemporary times. Most important, it allows the reader to gain a glimpse to see American Indians as real people with feelings, hopes and aspirations.
posted February 18, 2012 12:10 pm est
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