Published February 21, 2016
CHICAGO— Susan Kelly Power and Father Peter Powell remember the early days of the American Indian Center in Chicago. The two are the only remaining members of the founders of the American Indian Center that was established in 1953.
The American Indian Center is the oldest urban American Indian center in the United States.
Power, now 91-year-old, grew up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas and came to Chicago when she was 16-year-old as part of the federal relocation program that moved American Indians from reservations to urban centers. Shortly after arriving in Chicago from the reservation, she became a houskeeper. She eventually attended law school and served as the University of Chicago Law Review.
Power and Powell were speakers at an American Indian community celebration at the American Indian Center, located at 1930 West Wilson in Chicago’s Uptown. They provided an overview of what life was like back in the 1950s.
“I know I was quite lonely. I wanted to be around other Indians, as we were called then. They did not call us Native Americans back then,” said Power. “I would stop any dark-skinned person who looked Indian to find out if they were. Most of the time, they were of Spanish heritage. I was always so glad to see an Indian.”
Power remembers one American Indian woman who was so lonely after being relocated to Chicago, who one day say a poster of Maria Tallchief, Osage, who became a world-renown ballet dancer, and stayed there an looked at the poster so that she could feel connected to another American Indian.
Father Powell said that when the relocation first started, there were only about 750 American Indians in Chicago. Within five years, the number grew to over 10,000.
Saturday’s celebration attracted over 200 members of the American Indian community. An evening powwow brought together drumming and dancing.
The Oneida Smoke Dancers provided ceremonial drumming and dancing in the afternoon and evening.
Native News Online photographs by Levi Rickert
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