As a programming librarian, I am always looking for variety in the cultural and community programs the library offers. This summer, the library is excited to take advantage of a unique opportunity provided by our humanities grant* to highlight the library’s commitment to represent the Indigenous voices of our community in our programs and materials.
We are committed to offering materials (books, DVDs, etc.) and programming that accurately reflects the history and the present day lives of the Indigenous community. We will use our physical and digital spaces to share first voice information. We will offer programming in partnership with Indigenous cultures who were here before and are here today. We will offer the space for all to tell their stories and we will listen. — From Glen Ellyn Public Library Land Acknowledgement
The program calendar will be teeming with events connected to the library’s Land Acknowledgment. In planning these events, I had the delightful opportunity to interview Gina Roxas, the Program Director with the Trickster Cultural Center , and a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. We talked mostly about land acknowledgement, but also discussed Native hip hop and the significance of Native representation.
What does land acknowledgement mean to you?
For me, land acknowledgement is a reaffirmation of my own personal connection to this land and acknowledging the ancestors and caretakers then and now. It is not ownership, but us being a community. There are two parts of the acknowledgement: The first part is that these [Glen Ellyn, DuPage County] are the traditional homelands of the Three Fires. [The tribes of the Three Fires are the Ottawa, the Potawatomi and the Ojibwa.] This land is part of our origin story; this is our homeland. The second part is that others [other Native people] have come through these lands and it’s important to acknowledge their journeys. It’s important to be able to stand in a space and say, “my ancestors walked here.”
Why is it important for non-Natives to make a land acknowledgement statement?
It is a great first step, a foundation for building relationships and collaborations. It is not the end all, be all, it’s just a start as well as an acknowledgment that we can never go back. It will never be the same space. We must figure out how to go forward. It must be Natives and non-Natives working together. Ideally, this will help build relationships as speakers and presenters with specific acknowledgements/introductions like, “This is Gina from the Potawatomi nation.”
With more and more places creating land acknowledgement statements, how does it affect the Native community?
Land Acknowledgements are not new; Natives have been doing it since time immemorial. We acknowledge who was there before. When non-Natives acknowledge, it can be positive, but it can also be negative.
If a land acknowledgement is done without any input or collaboration from the Native community or if that input is ignored, it can be a way to continue segregation lines. Also, if the statement is overly inclusive, it could make us [the Native community] wonder why you’re not giving the land back. The positive side comes from listening to input and truly collaborating. The statement is a way to navigate sticky situations. It affirms that our people were here before and our people are here now in the community. It helps to ensure that the origin stories will continue to be taught.
How can the Glen Ellyn Community get involved beyond just acknowledgement?
Find ways to create space for Natives and uplift Native voices in the community and to do so whenever possible, not just specific Native dates. Highlight and bring in Native movies, artists, and musicians. Support the livelihood of the [Native] community.
With our “Beyond Land Acknowledgement” programs where we are putting actions to our words, we hope to have community volunteers join us. What would be the most important things for them to know?
Come in with an open mind and heart. This is not your space to manage; you are a guest. Acknowledge that there are things you may not know. Wait to be asked, respecting those whose space it is. There is a jingle skirt that I care for which must be handled with a certain spirit. Whenever I find it has been moved, there is a ceremony that must be done since I don’t know what energy the person handling it had. Youth are considered sacred; touching is not appropriate. Small things can turn big. Example: someone was trying to get the youth to settle down. After putting a hand on one of the youths and pulling the braid of another, this person had to be talked to. The intention had no harm to it, but there is historical trauma, especially when it comes to a Native’s hair. For photos of a Native child, it is important to ask the mother. Traditionally, a small gift would be given to the child as a thank you for permission.
Are there any books, movies, or music that you recommend?
Contemporary Native music and music that fuses traditional with contemporary.
I’ve really gotten into Native Hip Hop, and it’s so fantastic!
Yes! There’s this one group… Snotty Kids or…
Snotty Nose Rez Kids?
I’m so glad to see more Native voices telling contemporary stories, like Rez Dogs. But I want more urban Natives, not just reservation living since a lot of us don’t live on the reservation. Shows and stories that show people just living their lives. Representation of traditional aspects side by side with day-to-day living.
Thank you, Gina, for taking the time to talk with me.
*American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. (gepl.org/grant)
Another partner for Indigenous voices in our community is Midwest SOARRING Foundation . Midwest SOARRING is working with the Village of Glen Ellyn to establish a Native American Cultural & Environmental Center at what is now Churchill Woods Forest Preserve (fundthecenter.org ). This was the home of the historical site of a large Potawatomi village dating to roughly 1760. We look forward to working with these partners in Summer 2022.