The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian has named two Evanstonians of Native descent to its board of directors. Local residents Rev. Stephanie Perdew and businessman George J. Stevenson are members of the Cherokee nation. Andrew Johnson is the third new Cherokee individual to be appointed to the board, but does not live in Evanston.
Mitchell Museum, founded in 1977 and located at 3001 Central St., boasts an extensive array of exhibits on Indigenous arts, histories and cultures throughout the United States, one of only a few museums across the country to do so. It was established by John and Betty Seabury-Mitchell, who originally donated over 3,000 pieces of art to Kendall College, where the museum was formerly housed. The mission of the renowned institution is to convey a deeper understanding of Indigenous people’s cultures in the past and present.
“It wasn’t long after I moved to Evanston that I had heard and became aware that there was a really great, a very small museum, but with a really significant collection of tribal art,” said Perdew, who left her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, on her own to attend graduate school at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University in 1983.
“[Mitchell Museum] made me feel at home … There just aren’t that many places in the country that have specifically Native museums.”
Perdew is now an affiliate faculty member at Garrett as well as an ordained United Church of Christ minister and a regional interfaith leader and educator in Native American History.
Perdew’s paternal side is from Lincoln, Nebraska, while her mom’s father was from the Cherokee reservation in eastern Oklahoma. “He served in the United States Army. He left the reservation when he was a young man. That was a path forward for him, as it is for many Native folks. And so when he retired from the army, they moved to Lincoln.”
As someone who is simultaneously Christian and Cherokee in spirituality, Perdew said that she’s eager to use her connections with non-Native houses of worship, make the museum’s programs known and help educate congregations on issues related to cultural appropriation.
George Stevenson moved to Evanston around 1977 when he remarried. He considers himself white “with a curious mixture of heritage and history,” since he has a “very small” percentage of Cherokee blood and was raised in the white community.
Still, Stevenson maintains old and deep-rooted ties with the Cherokee tribe. “My grandfather was appointed in 1941 by President Roosevelt as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation … and he was chief until he died in ‘49.”
Stevenson, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, previously worked at McKinsey & Company and the National Tea Company. He also is a former chairman of Stevenson & Company, which assists companies with mergers and acquisitions.
“There are some important lessons that I think the rest of the world, some of the United States could learn from how the Indians [lived],” Stevenson said, describing the unique harmonious pact that Native Americans have with land and nature, as well as the unique history of marginalization Native people experienced after forced removal, most notably during the so-called “Trail of Tears.”
Currently, the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The museum is offering both virtual and in-person programming and tours. More information is available on the museum’s website.