The Downers Grove Public Library Land Acknowledgment is a living statement resulting from conversations and collaboration with Native organizations and individuals. We welcome everyone in the Downers Grove community and worldwide to engage in ongoing dialogue around the important issues discussed in this document, which may be refined as we continue to grow as an organization.
As a public institution that provides access to resources and information for lifelong learning, it is the library’s responsibility to acknowledge the historical context of the land we use, to promote dialogue and connection across cultures, and to recognize and promote the recognition of the truthful history of our community and country. This land acknowledgment was adopted and approved on 8/25/2021.
We acknowledge that the Downers Grove Public Library sits on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral homelands of Native peoples. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the Indigenous peoples who have been caretakers of the land throughout generations, past and present. We invite you to learn more about the genocide and forced displacement by non-Native settlers, and the ongoing injustices against Native peoples.
We acknowledge that the Downers Grove Public Library sits on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral homelands of Native peoples. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the Indigenous peoples who have been caretakers of the land throughout generations, past and present.
Native peoples have always existed on the continent that became known as North America (Science Magazine). The centuries following the arrival of European settlers in the fifteenth century were characterized by tremendous upheaval and devastation for Indigenous peoples throughout the continent. To resist efforts from the Europeans to take away more Native land and control, Native peoples engaged in both warfare and diplomacy. However, Native American resistance was hindered by numerous issues, including new diseases, the slave trade, and rising European immigration (Britannica 1, Library of Congress 1, National Geographic, Smithsonian).
Following the American Revolution, hostility grew between Native Tribes and the U.S. government, which employed aggressive policies that eroded Native peoples’ autonomy and independence. The Washington administration embraced a program of displacement and extermination (National Archives 1; National Archives 2), and later, “civilization” of Native peoples. The U.S. government promoted private ownership of land, commercial agriculture, and Christianity, and disavowed Native ways of labor divisions. The constant threat of expansion and military action by the U.S. drove many northwestern Indigenous Tribes into an alliance with the British, who promised that Native land would remain untouched (National Park Service 1).
Native peoples continued to face difficult choices as they endured more and more restrictive and exploitative land cession treaties with the U.S. They became involved in the War of 1812 to secure British support for their own war against the U.S. The U.S. American forces defeated the British as well as the Native American coalition led by Tecumseh at the Battle of Thames on October 5, 1813. For Native peoples, the outcome of the war was disastrous. It was a defeat in their desperate struggle for freedom, independence, and attempts to roll back the American frontier (Canadian War Museum).
On December 24, 1814, British and U.S. American representatives signed The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812 (Avalon Project). No Native peoples were present when the treaty was negotiated. While Article 9 of the treaty specifically called for the U.S. to end all hostilities with Tribal nations and to restore all “possessions, rights, and privileges” prior to the war, Britain's military withdrawal from the American frontier effectively opened the door for conquest.
On March 3, 1819, the U.S. Congress enacted the Civilization Fund Act to promote “education” for Native Americans and to stimulate the “civilization process.” This legislation ushered in an era of boarding schools, institutions created to destroy and vilify Native language, culture, and practices. The federal government and Catholic church officials coerced Native families into sending their children to live and attend classes at boarding schools without visitation. Students were stripped of all things associated with Native life, including having their hair cut, their clothes exchanged, and their language banned. Thousands suffered physical and sexual abuse, loss of dignity, and death. Those who did return home suffered lasting damage and trauma, which can be traced throughout generations by way of depression, alcoholism, and lasting negative self-worth. The boarding schools forced on Native Americans did not end until 1978 when the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed. The remains of thousands of children have never been found or returned (Native American Rights Fund, New York Times 1, U.S. National Library of Medicine). Orange Shirt Day is held each year on September 30 to open the door to conversation all over the world about the boarding schools (Orange Shirt Day).
Andrew Jackson had long been an advocate of what he called “Indian removal.” On May 28, 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which forced tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples to relocate west of the Mississippi River (History 1). Native populations, who had long inhabited the land around Chicago, used its vast network of trails and the portage connecting the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes for trade and travel. Not only did this demonstrate the value of the area to colonizers, but Native people also taught them the transportation routes and provided them with equipment. Native American geographic knowledge of the region helped lead to the planning of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1830, which ultimately helped Chicago to become the first major railroad hub. In addition, some of the first roads in Chicago were Indigenous footpaths (Canal Corridor Association, The Guardian).
As Jackson and the U.S. continued to push for westward expansion, Native Americans were almost entirely removed from the region through bloody conflicts and coercive land cession treaties. As a result of the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Treaty of Chicago of 1833, most remaining Native Americans were forced out of the area around Chicago. Specifically, the Treaty of Chicago of 1833 stipulated that members of the Potawatomi living in the Chicago area had to leave, forcing them to cede approximately five million acres (Britannica 2, Chicago Historical Society, University of Illinois). Many Native Americans did not survive long relocation trips on foot. Those who did often struggled with limited supplies and resources on rejected land, which led to long-lasting poverty and starvation. In the Cherokee Trail of Tears of 1838, one of the most well-known of many trails of tears, more than 5,000 Cherokee from the southeast died during a forced relocation march of more than 1,200 miles (History 2). The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 formally created the reservation system, establishing areas reserved for Indigenous peoples to relocate to after their forced removal by the U.S. government (Michigan State University, Minnesota Historical Society). From 1863 to 1868, the U.S. Army forcibly removed approximately 9,500 Navajo and 500 Mescalero Apache from their respective homelands and interned them at the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation in eastern New Mexico. An estimated one in five died during the march, which came to be known as the Long Walk. Another 2,380 people died of disease, exposure, and hunger (NM Dept. of Cultural Affairs, NM History Museum, NPR). In Minnesota, the Dakota people were forcibly displaced in the aftermath of the Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux or Dakota Uprising. Frustrated by oppressive reservation policies, which had left the Dakota people on the verge of starvation, the Dakota people declared war to reclaim their homelands from colonizers. After nearly six weeks of bloody conflict, the Dakota people surrendered. Following the surrender, a military commission captured nearly 400 Dakota people. The captives were put on trial without legal representation. President Abraham Lincoln ultimately approved the execution of 38 Dakota men. They were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862, just days before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. This remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Many more Dakota people were captured and imprisoned, and were later executed or died from disease. In April 1863, the U.S. Congress abolished the Dakota reservation, declared all previous treaties with the Tribe null and void, and forced Dakota survivors to leave their homes and relocate (Indian Country Today 1, PBS 1, University of Minnesota).
The Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 declared that Indigenous peoples were no longer considered members of independent nations and that the U.S. government could no longer establish treaties with them (Colorado Encyclopedia, National Archives 3). This legislation formally labeled Indigenous peoples as subjects under direct control of the U.S. federal government, which continued its attempts to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream U.S. society. Under President Grover Cleveland, the Dawes Act was passed in 1887. Sometimes called the Dawes Severalty Act or General Allotment Act, this law allowed the federal government to break up Tribal lands into individually owned plots. The lands were often unsuitable for farming, which was forced upon Native peoples as part of their assimilation process. After being granted their allotment divisions, Native Americans ended up being stripped of over 90 million acres of Tribal land, which the U.S. government sold to non-Natives (National Park Service 2). Native peoples would not be legally recognized as citizens of the United States, despite being inhabitants for thousands of years, until 1924. It would be another four decades before Native Americans were granted the right to vote in every state in 1962. Native Americans, like African Americans and other minorities, faced and continue to face numerous barriers to voting (History 3, Library of Congress 2, PBS 2).
After the removal of Native Americans from the region, the Chicago metropolitan area did not have a significant Native presence for over a hundred years. In the mid-20th century, the U.S. government ushered in an era of termination policies to strengthen their efforts to assimilate Native peoples into U.S. culture. Termination ended the protected trustee relationship that Indigenous Tribes had with the U.S. federal government. It also ended recognition of Tribal sovereignty and exclusion of Native peoples from state laws (Oregon Encyclopedia, Stanford Law Review). The discontinuation of federal recognition of many Tribes resulted in the loss of federal funding for many of the reservations’ services, such as schools and hospitals. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Urban Relocation Program of 1952, under President Truman, and the federal Indian Relocation Act of 1956, under President Eisenhower, were intended to encourage Native peoples to leave reservations and their traditional lands, and to assimilate into the general population in urban areas. Despite promises of job training and housing for the new arrivals, the relocation programs had devastating effects. Many Native Americans found only low-paying jobs and faced racial, housing, and job discrimination, resulting in poverty, homelessness, and cultural and social isolation (American Indian Quarterly). Termination would not come to an official end until 1975 when the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was finally passed, giving Native peoples rights to self-government and control of their own educational activities (Congress).
To provide support to Native populations, the American Indian Center of Chicago was founded in 1953 by local Native Americans led by Tom Segundo, with financial assistance from the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker charity organization (Chicago Tribune 1, Urban Anthropology). The American Indian Center of Chicago remains the oldest urban Native community center in the country. Native-owned and operated, it continues to serve “[not only] its Native constituents but non-Native, low-income families and individuals as well” (Indian Country Today 2). Today, the Chicago metropolitan area has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country with a representation of well over one hundred different Tribes (WTTW, Chicago Tribune 2). Chicago and the surrounding suburbs continue to have a growing, diverse Indigenous population (U.S. Census Bureau). At present, there are approximately 326 Native American land areas, which total around 56.2 million acres, administered as federal reservations in the U.S. This constitutes less than three percent of the total acreage in the country. There are currently 574 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native Tribes (Bureau of Indian Affairs).
Across the nation and world, Native peoples continue their profound respect for the land, as well as for water and air, and live in harmony with nature. The Native American Seven Generations Principle is a philosophy in which the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future (Indigenous Corporate Training). Native peoples have repeatedly demonstrated through peaceful protests against the desecration of sacred lands, damage to water supplies, the reneging of Tribal rights guaranteed by treaties, and more. Examples of such efforts are the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the destruction of sacred land by golf courses (Chicago Tribune 3, New York Times 2).
In addition to having their land, air, and water threatened, Native Americans face threats to human rights in a myriad of other ways. For example, thousands of North American Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or disappeared during the past four decades. The REDress Project is a human rights initiative that aims to raise awareness of this horrific issue. Native communities also experience higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and addiction, high school dropout rates, mortality, and psychological distress compared to all other ethnic groups in the United States. While the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed in 1988 allowing for Tribes to use revenues generated from casinos for purposes designated in the IGRA such as Tribal government operations and programs including schools, police and fire departments, courts, and hospitals, Native peoples continue to experience the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the U.S. (Indian Country Today 3, Office of Indian Gaming). Nevertheless, Native peoples have maintained their strong desire to protect the land of Turtle Island, the Native term for North America. In fact, “Native people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population to serve in the U.S. military” (National Indian Council on Aging). Since 9/11, nearly 19% of all Native Americans have served in the Armed Forces while all other ethnicities average 14% (USO).
We invite you to learn more about the genocide and forced displacement by non-Native settlers, and the ongoing injustices against Native peoples.