Acknowledgment of Indigenous Land
We recognize that Steppenwolf Theatre sits on Native land. The area our building resides on is the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires, including the Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Odawa. Although for over 200 years Native Nations have been forcibly removed from this territory, we must acknowledge that this land continues to be a site of gathering and healing for more than a dozen other Tribal Nations and remains home to over 100,000 tribal members in the state of Illinois.
Want to learn about the land you are on? Visit native-land.ca
We are very grateful to our friends at the American Indian Center–Chicago, specifically Fawn Pochel, for their guidance on Steppenwolf’s new practice around Land Acknowledgements.
About This Statement
In New Zealand, Australia and Canada, it is common to begin events with a land acknowledgement, which recognizes and honors the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous people and their land. While European settlers tend to see land as a resource to be used and exploited for their benefit, Indigenous people across the world have a more horizontal relationship with their land, emphasizing respect and reciprocity.
We recognize the original inhabitants of this land in order to show respect, gratitude and appreciation to those whose land we reside on and to disrupt false narratives around the history of this land. For example, many school systems across the United States do not teach Indigenous history or teach it incorrectly.
Land acknowledgements do not exist in the past tense; colonialism still lives with us today in various forms. This statement is only the beginning of our exploration of the history of this land and our relationship with indigenous communities. We’re excited to deepen our partnership with the American Indian Center, and we invite you to join us as we continue to learn and interrogate our participation in upholding colonial structures.
The Importance of Storytelling
The art of storytelling combats the violent erasure and the porous versions of history instilled into our imaginations. By choosing to acknowledge and uplift the voices of Indigenous communities, we are committing to a more honest and equitable future. Acknowledgment is the first step in addressing injustices that have resulted in silence and exclusion. We cannot replace what has been lost and stolen. Still, through continual action, support and accountability, we can further build an artistic community that prioritizes inclusivity, shared space and shared power.
Who are the Council of Three Fires?
Traditionally, the Council of Three Fires are known as the Neshnabek (Man Sent Down From Above), a confederated nation comprised of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodéwadmi (Potawatomi). The confederacy is referred to as the Council of Three Fires, recognizing that each tribe functions as brethren to serve the alliance as a whole. Learn more.
The Ojibwe are an Algonkian-speaking tribe and constitute the largest Native American group north of Mexico, with some 175,000 individuals of Ojibwe descent. The Ojibwe (also spelled Ojibwa or Ojibway) stretch from present-day Ontario in Eastern Canada into Montana. They were primarily hunters and fishermen, as the UP climate was too cold for farming. A few bands of Ojibwe lived in southern Michigan, where they subsisted principally by hunting. However, all had summer residences where they raised min-dor-min (corn), potatoes, turnips, beans, and sometimes squashes, pumpkins and melons.
The federal government made two major land cession treaties with the Wisconsin Ojibwe. The first was in 1837, when the Ojibwe sold most of their land in north-central Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. The next was finalized in 1842, and the Ojibwe ceded their remaining lands in Wisconsin and Michigan's upper peninsula. Soon, American lumberjacks fell upon the rich pine stands, and miners began to exploit the copper mines along the southern shore of Lake Superior. In 1854, the Ojibwe signed a treaty that created four of the modern-day Ojibwe reservations in Wisconsin: Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac du Flambeau and Lac Courte Oreilles.
Once the reservations were created, the Ojibwe were unable to sustain themselves by hunting and gathering, and many Ojibwe men worked as lumberjacks for White-owned companies. While lumbering brought some economic benefits to the Wisconsin Ojibwe, it also bought continued land loss. Congress passed the Dawes Act in 1887, designed to help Native people live more like Whites by dividing up reservation lands so they could all own individual farms. The land in northern Wisconsin was not good for farming, and many Ojibwe sold their land to lumber companies to supplement their wages. On some reservations, over 90% of the land passed into White hands.
The Citizen Potawatomi are Algonquian-speaking people who originally occupied the Great Lakes region of the United States. By the end of the 18th century, tribal villages were being displaced by white settlements, ultimately ushering in the American treaty era. Through a series of treaties, beginning in 1789, their tribal estate totaling more than 89 million acres was gradually reduced. The federal government continued reducing Potawatomi landholdings by removing them to smaller reserves in Iowa, Missouri and finally Kansas in 1846.
Today, Citizen Potawatomi Nation is one of 38 federally recognized Native American tribes with headquarters in Oklahoma. CPN is a thriving nation that is actively working to retain its culture while being a frontrunner in Native American business.
The areas we now call Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin are the ancestral homelands of the Odawa (also spelled Ottawa and Odaawa), who were mostly traders. Under pressure from the United States government, the Odawa people signed treaties between 1795 and 1817, ceding much of their land. After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Odawa people were moved to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1956, the United States government terminated the Odawa tribe in an attempt to “civilize” and assimilate them into mainstream society, ending the federal government’s recognition of their tribal sovereignty. It took twenty-two years for the tribe to be reestablished as a federally recognized government in 1978. There are about 15,000 members of the Odawa tribe living in Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma today.
Steppenwolf is working to foster a culture of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) within our theater. Learn more about our living statements, commitments and actionable goals.