Land Acknowledgement

Potawatomi Cintura, ca. 1870; courtesy of Sailko Wikicommons, CC 3.0

This land upon which we learn and grow was originally the home of the Neshnabé, the name Potawatomi people call themselves. The Potawatomi are a diverse group of people, and prior to European settlement they were organized into many societies stretching from southern Michigan, into northern Indiana, Illinois and eastern Wisconsin.

The impact of the Potawatomi on the land is undeniable. The area is crisscrossed by waterways, and portaging was easy --- if you knew where. It was the Potawatomi who helped the first European explorers, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, find their way to the Mississippi River by showing them the best places to portage from the Des Plaines River to the Illinois River.

The area where John Hersey High School stands was primarily the land of the Des Plaines and Fox River Potawatomi. In fact, many of the roads that we use everyday were first roads and trails made by the Potawatomi to help facilitate trade and communication among the various villages in the area. Arlington Heights Road was at one time the main land trail that connected villages from modern day Naperville to the village of Half Day.

Seven Potawatomi Chiefs by George Winter, ca 1837
Public Domain

Chicago itself is a Potawatomi word, and modern maps of the Chicago area is punctuated by Potawatomi place names, often in the phonetic spelling of their Algonquin language.  The village of Aptakisic is named after a Potawatomi chief.  His name means "Half Day."  Aurora.  Calumet. Menomonee.  Potawatomi Woods is a forest preserve near Hersey High School. Skokie and Winnetka are Potawatomi words, too.

Although "Lacrosse" is a French word for the popular game called pau-kee-to-way, it was a game played all over the area by the Potawatomi and other indigenous people long before the Europeans arrived. 

As more European settlers came to the area, Native peoples were forced to sell their land, often through deceptive treaties. Although the Potawatomi assisted the U.S. Army in the Black Hawk War, by the early 1830s Native peoples in the area were forced to move like so many others under Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policies. The Treaty of Chicago was forced upon the Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe peoples in 1833. One band of Potawatomis from Indiana were forced on a long march through central Illinois, known as the "Trail of Death."

The last group of Potawatomi people, encamped not too far from our school along the Des Plaines River, were forced to flee for their lives from an attack by U.S. "Removal Agents" in 1837.

Today, many Potawatomi live in self-governed nations in Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. Chicago has the third largest indigenous population today, with over 65,000 self-identified Native peoples from many different nations.

History is important, and the stories that we tell ourselves about the past need to include those who have been mostly ignored in the traditional narratives that most of us know. In the spirit of the Potawatomi teachings known as the Seven Grandfathers, humility and truth are important steps in the human journey and we recognize the impact and struggle of the people who were here before us -- and without whom we would not be who we are. 

                                                                                                                    Written by Bruce Janu (June, 2021)

For more information:

WBEZ, Chicago, has a great interactive website called "Without Native Americans, Would We Have Chicago As We Know It?"

"Chicago's Trail of Tears: Potawatomi Warriors' 1935 Dance Marked Eviction" by Patrick T. Reardon (Chicago Tribune)

"What Founding Father Has Wrought" by Maryanne Mills (Chicago Tribune)

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