Monday, October 14, 2019

Indigenous Peoples' Day 2019

By Frank Boles
With one of the nation’s premiere collections documenting the history of the People of the Three Fires, the Clarke Historical Library’s material speaks with many voices regarding the Chippewa, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples.
On this day we remember one of those voices—that of Simon Pokagon. Born in southwest Michigan in approximately 1830, Simon Pokagon was the son of Leopold Pokagon, who was a leader of the of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Simon would also become a leader of the Band. Pokagon was well educated by the standards of the day. He attended both Notre Dame and Oberlin. He eventually became an author and spokesperson for his people.
One of his most remembered addresses, which he also published as a pamphlet, occurred at the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair). In the 1880s, several large cities had expressed an interest in organizing a World’s Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. The interest in sponsoring the fair was very pragmatic. The crowds that everyone anticipated attending the event would generate an immediate profit for those who underwrote the fair’s expenses. Other hoped-for benefits included boosting local real estate values and generally promoting the city in which the fair was held.

When it became clear that several cities planned to go forward with their own fair, Congress became involved and belatedly selected Chicago as the fair’s site. Because of its dithering in making the decision, Congress officially declared the fair would take place in 1893, rather than 1892, the more precise year for a Columbus quadricentennial.
The World’s Columbian Exposition opened on May 1, 1893. In order to help attract an audience, the fair’s organizers regularly sponsored “Special Days.” Almost every day the Fair was open a Special Day celebrated one group or another, from the Ancient Order of Foresters Day (August 15) through Venezuela Day (July 5). As part of this endless string of Special Days, October 9 was designated Chicago Day. To celebrate, Simon Pokagon was asked to come to Chicago to represent the original inhabitants of the land. Pokagon was invited to ride on a parade float, and more importantly make a speech. It is said that he spoke to nearly 75,000 people. 
Whatever the actual number of people, the speech Pokagon gave was not likely the one the crowd expected. Titled, The Red Man’s Rebuke, Pokagon pointed out that the arrival of Columbus was something to celebrate if one were white,
On 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 the high joy day over the graves of our departed than to celebrate our own funeral, the discovery of America. And while...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.”
Simon Pokagon’s published works, including printed versions of The Red Man’s Rebuke which he printed on birch bark, are found in the Clarke Historical Library.