Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original to correct the name and heritage of Joyce Miller Bean. The RoundTable regrets the errors.

Evanston Public Library officials led off their regular board meeting at the main library Nov. 16 with a reading of a land acknowledgment statement, recognizing that Evanston and the library facilities are on the land of Indigenous people.

The Evanston Public Library has added a Native American land acknowledgment statement to its website and meetings. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

The reading was the first for the library. In March 2021, School District 65 approved a land acknowledgment and it has been a part of the district’s public meetings ever since, said Melisssa Messinger, the school’s executive director of communications.

Northwestern University, meanwhile, has had a land acknowledgment on its website since 2018.

Library trustees had approved at their October meeting that the statement be added to the library’s website, EPL.org, and that a shortened form of the land acknowledgement be read aloud before library events.

Anthony Michael Tamez, a First Nations Oji-Cree and the current chair of the Center for Native American Youths’ Youth Advisory Board, was to make the first reading of the land acknowledgment at the Nov. 16 meeting.

He had to pull out, though, because of a delay at the airport, interim Library Executive Director Heather Norborg said at the meeting, which was held virtually and also in a room on the third floor of the library. Norborg said Tamez had been on his way back from a meeting at the White House as part of its Native American Heritage Month celebration.

Joyce Miller Bean, a co-chair of the library’s Racial Equity Task Force, who is of African American as well as Native American heritage with the strongest component coming from her grandfather on her mother’s side of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was then asked to make the first reading.

Here is the statement:

Before colonization and settlement by people of European descent, the place we know as Evanston was home to the Potawatomi, Odawa and Ojibwe Tribes, also known as the Council of the Three Fires. It also served as an important crossroads and meeting place for a number of other Indigenous tribal nations, including the Ho-Chunk, Illinois, Inoka, Kickapoo, Miami, Menominee, Peoria, and Sac & Fox Nations. We acknowledge and honor the original people of this land, as well as the Indigenous people that still call this area home, and support their continued work for justice, self-determination, and sovereignty. In so doing, we honor Indigenous protocol, and remind ourselves and our community that land acknowledgements do not exist in the past tense.

After the reading, Norborg in a statement paid special credit “to our internal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee members and thanks to Jasmine Gurneau (Oneida/Menominee), the Director of Native American and Indigenous Affairs in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Northwestern University, who reviewed and advised us on the land acknowledgment.”

‘Starting point for collaboration’: Mitchell Museum director

Land acknowledgment statements “can be good starts” if they also reflect forward, said Kim Vigue, executive director of Evanston’s Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. Vigue is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation and a descendant of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin.

Kim Vigue Mitchell Museum
Kim Vigue, executive director of the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

“They’re not viewed favorably, or they’re seen as a little disingenuous, if they don’t serve as a springboard to collaboration or further support or work with the indigenous community,” she said in a phone interview.

“I always remind people that land acknowledgments should never be written in the past tense. They tend to be – a lot of times, I think, unknowingly people write them in the past tense. But by doing that you’re sort of perpetuating this idea that Indigenous people don’t exist anymore.

“And so the purpose of land acknowledgment is to acknowledge what happened truthfully, like about removal and displacement … then acknowledging the communities today, and kind of honoring their survival and resilience at the same time.”

Statements run the gamut

She said a growing number of organizations have drawn up land acknowledgment statements, turning to the museum to help them review or verify the information and also asking for ways to continue or start working with the surrounding Native communities.

The statements can run the gamut, Vigue said, with people sometimes compiling merely “a list of who was here. And then others that are more comprehensive land acknowledgments that will say, why are they no longer here or why was there no federal reservations or native lands here and really truthfully saying that their [Indigenous tribes’] land was stolen and [they] were forcibly removed,” she said.

Today, “there are over 100,000 Native people in the region and they represent over 150 tribes across the U.S. and Canada. And that’s important to acknowledge and to state, so that people know we’re still here,” Vigue said.

“I like to see that,” she said. “It’s very important for me and I think for most Native people, especially if you’re working within Native communities, that people understand that we’re still here and then really thriving, [and] contribute to the larger community.

“A land acknowledgment should also also serve as a starting point for collaboration with the Native community, getting to know and working with the Native community that the organization’s land is on.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Nice article about the EPL beginning Land Acknowledgements and the excellent points made by Kim Vigue of the Mitchell Museum.
    Two corrections, however. My name is Joyce Miller Bean and it was my grandfather on my mother’s side who supplied the strongest component of my Native American heritage.

    1. Dear Ms. Joyce Miller Bean, I am so very sorry we got both those things wrong. The story has been corrected and reflects the correction at the top of the page. Again, my apologies, Susy Schultz, editor.