Transcript © 2023 JeeYeun Lee

My name is John Low. I’m a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. I’m an associate professor at The Ohio State University, and director of the Newark Earthworks Center. The Red Man’s Rebuke, by Simon Pokagon, Potawatomi chief. In behalf of my people, the American Indians, I hereby declare to you, the pale-faced race that has usurped our lands and homes, that we have no spirit to celebrate with you the Great Columbian Fair now being held in this Chicago city, the wonder of the world. No; sooner would we hold high joy-day over the graves of our departed fathers, than to celebrate our own funeral, the discovery of America. And while you who are strangers, and you who live here, bring the offerings of the handiwork of your own lands, and your hearts in admiration rejoice over the beauty and grandeur of this young republic, and you say, “Behold the wonders wrought by our children in this foreign land,” do not forget that this success has been at the sacrifice of our homes and a once happy race.

JUSTIN NEELY: <Introduction in Potawatomi>, My name is Justin Neely, and my Indian name is Zag Mnibe. I’m Indian, I’m Native, Potawatomi. I’m enrolled Citizen Potawatomi, Crane Clan, and I’m the Director of Language for here, Citizen Potawatomi. I didn’t know one word of Potawatomi as a child. I didn’t know a single word. It all kind of started with just hearing that language that first time, I was just drawn to the language. I’ve learned Potawatomi, I’ve been working with Potawatomi for over 20 years, and today I can say anything pretty much I want in Potawatomi.

August 3, 1795. A treaty of peace between the United States of America, and the tribes of Indians called the Wyandots, Delawares, Shawanees, Ottawas, Chippewas, Pattawatimas, Miamis, Eel Rivers, Weas. . . .

JUSTIN NEELY: We signed a lot of treaties. We’re actually the most treatied tribe in US history. We signed over 40 with the US government, we signed a couple with Great Britain, a couple with France. The US government was always looking to take what we had and push us a little further and further away. There’s so many things that we can’t do any more down here, like we can’t tap maple trees. We don’t have birch bark, which was our main thing for making wigwams, houses, canoes, baskets. We don’t have black ash trees, which we also made baskets out of. We don’t have all these different medicines and plants that you know we had developed a relationship over thousands of years.

August 24, 1816. A treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Limits, made and concluded between commissioners of the United States of America, of the one part, and the chiefs and warriors of the united tribes of Ottawas, Chipawas, and Pottowotomees, residing on the Illinois and Melwakee rivers, and their waters, and on the southwestern parts of Lake Michigan, of the other part.

JUSTIN NEELY: Even though they’ve pushed us away and they pushed us down into Kansas and Oklahoma, some of our people were able to run away, some of them weren’t going. They went to Canada, they went into the woods, they fled in different directions. They made different deals to try to stay. And so there still are people today, you know, you have three different groups of Potawatomi there in Michigan, and then you have another one that’s still in Michigan on the upper peninsula by Escanaba. Then you have more Potawatomis in Wisconsin, so even today, even after all the removals and all the treaties and all the trying to push us away, there’s still Potawatomis that have been in that area.

Plan of Chicago, prepared under the direction of the Commercial Club, by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, 1909. Chicago is the metropolis of the middle West. The domain over which Chicago holds primacy is larger than Austria-Hungary, or Germany, or France; three thousand miles of navigable waters form a portion of its boundaries; the rivers flowing into the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the Ohio give access to every part of the interior; the level prairies invite the railroad and the canal builder; the large proportion of arable land makes possible the support of enormous population. The elements which make for the greatness of this city are known to be permanent, and men realize that the time has now come to build confidently and foundations already laid.

Approved June 17, 1891. Whereas, the United States, by act of Congress, has provided for celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by holding a universal exposition, and whereas, the great importance to mankind of the event, the location of said exposition in the chief city of this State, the prominent position already attained by this new commonwealth in the ranks of industrial progress and its abundant resources from which to gather additional wealth and honors – all appeal to our patriotism, State pride, sense of duty and self-interest, demanding that the state of Illinois participate as an exhibitor in the World’s Columbian Exposition in a manner at once credible to its citizens.

August 5, 1890. Be it enacted by the people of the state of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: That there shall be, and is hereby, granted to the authorities having the charge and management of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the use and occupation of all lands, whether submerged or otherwise, as the site for the holding of said World’s Columbian Exposition. And the use of any submerged lands which may be filled or reclaimed shall accrue to the city of Chicago to be forever maintained as a public park.

The Significance of the Frontier in American History, by Frederick Jackson Turner, 1893. Up to our own day, American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development. The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization. The wilderness masters the colonist. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him. Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontie the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails. Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe. The fact is, that here is a new product that is American. Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity. American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves.

The Red Man’s Rebuke, by Simon Pokagon, Potawatomi chief. Where these great Columbian show-buildings stretch skyward, and where stands this “Queen City of the West,” once stood the red man’s wigwam; here met their old men, young men, and maidens; here blazed their council-fires. Here was the center of their wide-spread hunting-grounds; stretching far eastward, and to the great salt Gulf southward, and to the lofty Rocky Mountain chain westward; and all about and beyond the Great Lakes northward roamed vast herds of buffalo, while moose, deer, and elk were found from ocean to ocean. All were provided by the Great Spirit for our use; we destroyed none except for food and dress; had plenty and were contented and happy. But alas! the pale-faces came by chance to our shores, many times very needy and hungry. We nursed and fed them,—fed the ravens that were soon to pluck out our eyes, and the eyes of our children; for no sooner had the news reached the Old World that a new continent had been found, peopled with another race of men, than, locust-like, they swarmed on all our coasts. We gave for promises and “gewgaws” all the gold we had, and showed them where to dig for more; to repay us, they robbed our homes of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Our hearts were crushed by such base ingratitude; and, as the United States has now decreed, “No Chinaman shall land on our shores,” so we then felt that no such barbarians as they, should land on ours.

The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, by Ida B. Wells, 1893. Columbia has bidden the civilized world to join with her in celebrating the four- hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. At Jackson Park are displayed exhibits of her natural resources, and her progress in the arts and sciences, but that which would best illustrate her moral grandeur has been ignored. The exhibit of the progress made by a race in 25 years of freedom as against 250 years of slavery would have been the greatest tribute to the greatness and progressiveness of American institutions which could have been shown the world. Why are not the colored people, who constitute so large an element of the American population, and who have contributed so large a share to American greatness, more visibly present and better represented in this World’s Exposition? The labor of one-half of this country has always been, and is still being done by them. The wealth created by their industry has afforded to the white people of this country the leisure essential to their great progress in education, art, science, industry and invention.

– Ieodo Sana folk song in Korean –

Approved May 2, 1907. Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: That every board of park commissioners which now has, or may hereafter have control over any public park, boulevard or driveway, bordering upon any public waters in this State, and which now has, or may hereafter have the power to extend such park, boulevard or driveway over and upon the bed of such public waters may acquire the riparian or other rights of the owners of lands on the shores adjoining the public waters. The park commissioners and riparian owners are hereby authorized to agree upon a boundary line dividing the submerged lands acquired by the park commissioners and the submerged lands to be taken, owned and used by said riparian owners in lieu of and as compensation for the release of said riparian rights.

JUSTIN NEELY: Our people lived along the shores of Lake Michigan for thousands of years. That was such a sacred homeland for Potawatomi people. So we’ve always lived around that for many many, many, many years – many more than this government’s ever been around, you know. Basically the dirt and the dust that people stand on on the shores of Lake Michigan is the bones of our people. Thousands of generations of people that have passed on, you’re bound to step on one of my ancestors while walking along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Kay Clement et al. v. Chicago Park District et al., Supreme Court of Illinois, 1983. In 1978, the Chicago Park District designated approximately 11 acres of land located in Jackson Park for use as a golf driving range. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that construction of the driving range was unlawful because of the park district’s failure to receive prior approval from the Plan Commission pursuant to the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The circuit court found that the driving range was a proper park function, and that the park district commissioners did not exceed their powers or violate any of their duties and responsibilities in constructing the driving range. Justice Simon dissenting: Under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, the people of Chicago charged the Plan Commission with the duties of conserving the priceless natural resource of Lake Michigan, its water and shoreline, promoting access to the shoreline and expanding the quality and quantity of the lakefront parks. The park district should not be treated as a sort of duchy separate from the city. The use and development of Chicago’s lakefront parks, as well as the lakefront itself, should be subject to the will and desires of all the people of Chicago through the expression of their city council and Plan Commission.

JUSTIN NEELY: The language is really a window into the past that allows you to see what was important to our ancestors long ago, but what’s still important to us as traditional Potawatomi people today. It’s our blood, it’s our history, it’s our stories, our cooking, our ceremonies, all this stuff that makes us Potawatomi. But the language is really the thread that ties it all together. Through the language, you start to see the world as a Potawatomi sees it. The entire worldview of Potawatomi and the way the language is structured, things are either animate, or inanimate. Basically, animate means living and inanimate, nonliving. But it’s a little more complicated than that, because things that are animate are also things that are spiritual in nature. So sacred areas, sacred objects, things like that are also considered animate or spiritual. And the reason that matters is, in English, you know, if I said like, “I see the sun,” you say the same thing as “I see that table.” In Potawatomi it’s a completely different verb, I see, literally him or her, this living entity or this sacred thing. And it’s like the water you know, if I said, lake is usually considered animate, I’d say, I see that great body of water, that would be considered something animate, something sacred.

Jackson Park Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Study, US Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago Park District, 2014. Jackson Park was originally designed in the 1870s but was little improved until 1890 when Frederick Law Olmsted laid out the World’s Columbian Exposition on the site. The design of Jackson Park was later modified by Daniel Burnham as part of his Plan of Chicago in 1910. Jackson Park was created through heavy landscape modification that included grading, blading and filling to create the historic park landscape. The main problems at Jackson Park are as follows: unnatural hydrogeomorphic conditions that promote invasive species success; absence of species rich coastal plant communities; absence of rare and sensitive coastal plant and animal species; lack of critical habitat for locally endangered and rare fauna; lack of migratory bird resting and forage habitats. Water quality data was collected in Jackson Park from 1989 through 2013. This data shows levels of chloride, chlorophyll, phosphorus and total suspended solids, which are elevated from the Illinois General Use State Standards. Within Jackson Park, Bobolink Meadows prairie restoration has been ongoing since 1989, making it one of the older efforts in Chicago’s parks. It was built on the 1893 World’s Fair Grounds in an area which was turned into a public golf course shortly after the exhibition, and then leased by the US Army for its Nike missile base from 1956 to 1971. The presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, semi volatile organic compounds, and metals in the soils and sediment were potential residual components of fill activities conducted at this site before and after Department of Defense operation.

JUSTIN NEELY: We were a people that valued the water. The waters like that lifeblood of Mother Earth. And if we cross over a body of water, we always stop and we put down an offering of tobacco, some semaa, and we say a prayer because you know, we’re asking for safe passage to take care of us and acknowledging the sacredness of that water in itself that we’re crossing over.

South Lakefront Framework Plan, Chicago Park District, 2018. The South Lakefront reflects both the continuity of Frederick Law Olmsted’s original 1871 vision and the changing needs of park users and the community over time. This plan builds on his legacy of serving contemporary park users with a closely knit fabric of historically significant cultural, recreational and natural landscapes. A key impetus for updating the plan was to integrate several major projects that had been proposed for the South Lakefront: the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, the merger and restoration of the Jackson and South Shore golf courses into one premier 18-hole community course, and necessary roadway changes to facilitate these projects. It is a future that renews the South Lakefront’s 10.5 miles of lake and lagoon shoreline, leveraging unique recreational and ecological opportunities along the water. It embraces the commitment. . . .

Protect Our Parks, Inc. versus Chicago Park District and the city of Chicago, Defendants. United States District Court, North Division Illinois, signed June 11, 2019. Plaintiffs sue to prevent construction of the Obama Presidential Center within Jackson Park. The site comprises 19.3 acres or 3.5 percent of Jackson Park. The Illinois courts have extended the public trust doctrine to Chicago parkland, including land within Jackson Park. When applying the public trust doctrine to land that is not and has never been submerged, reviewing courts must ask only whether sufficient legislative intent exists for the given land, reallocation or diversion. The Museum Act reflects the legislature’s determination that presidential centers, as a type of museum, remain consistent with a parcels designation as public parkland.

JUSTIN NEELY: We have these values, these seven grandfather teachings that we talk about. Love, respect, honesty, truth, humility. Really when you think about the water, you think about the earth, you have to think about humility, the concept that, you know, we’re not more important than the ant next to us or the blade of grass that’s growing on the ground. You know, they’re our brothers, our sisters, our relatives, our relations. Same with the earth. This is our mother, we’re supposed to take care of our mother. Our mother nurtures us and gives us life force, this life energy that we can exist. We think of ourselves as kind of up here above everything else – dominion over all the animals – we’re part of something something much bigger than just us.

– Nibi Water Song in Anishinaabe –