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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday May 23rd 2024

Native Sons

By Peter Molenaar

What happens to people who drive west on Franklin Avenue to the point where it ceases to exist? It is likely they will turn south on Penn Avenue and discover Birchbark Books one block away. That”'s what happened to me.

Birchbark is locally our best store of Native American Indian literature. I did purchase one of Louise Erdrich”'s fourteen novels while there. 

But it was by chance that I perused a geography book which revealed a park named after our state”'s second governor. There exists within this park, on a tributary of the Minnesota River, a lovely waterfall now called Ramsey Falls”¦ another Dakota sacred site named in honor of a shameless conqueror.

Is the true name lost?

What happens to people who drive southeast for eight hours? They will find the land where wild garlic once grew in great abundance. “Shikaakwa” was the Illiniwek word for this medicine plant. From the tongues of early French explorers, the word became “Checagou.” Today we call the place “Chicago.”

Owing to the mean spirit of the Indian Relocation Act, the Chicago area is now home to some 40,000 Native Americans from more than 50 tribes. The unintended result of relocation has been the creation of a multi-tribal community with a common identity. Since 1953, the American Indian center of Chicago has nurtured the development of this new nationality.

Chicago is also a place which radiates a rich history of Labor struggles, including the activities of Communists. About a year ago I paid a visit and had the pleasure of meeting a comrade of Dakota descent there.

This young man was all about class-consciousness. His analysis flowed from the vantage of all social classes in the course of their dynamic inter-relation”¦ in the fashion of a Marxist-Leninist working class partisan. I “pushed back” gently with the suggestion that he would do well to deepen the examination of his own heritage. He might, for example, make a study of the power of women in the traditional Dakota village.

It happened then that two Minnesotans became brothers in the “land of wild garlic.”

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