American Indian Center of Chicago museum and art gallery opening

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It was 1953 when a small group of American Indians held the first American
Indian Center Powwow in Chicago. They filled the streets near Kinzie and
LaSalle, dancing and singing and pounding drums.

At the time, the U.S. government was stripping more than 100 tribes of their
“official” status, forcing many American Indians to leave tribal lands
throughout the Midwest for cities such as Chicago.

The powwow – sponsored by the American Indian Center of Chicago, which opened
that year – gave the many transplants a common place to gather.

Since then, the powwow has grown and moved to the University of Illinois at
Chicago. The number of American Indians in the metropolitan area also has
expanded, topping more than 31,000 in the 2000 census.

By early next year, those people – and their history – will have another
home, this one in the Northwest suburbs.

The American Indian Center of Chicago is expected to open a museum and art
gallery Feb. 1 in the Schaumburg-owned building once occupied by the Chicago
Athenaeum, an art and architecture museum.

The city will lease the property, at 190 S. Roselle Road in Schaumburg’s Town
Square, for $1 per year. In exchange, the American Indian Center will provide
learning opportunities for area youths, a market to buy native art and
exhibits on American Indian culture.

Elders from a tribe in Wisconsin already have volunteered to help build a
wigwam inside the building where they’ll host a storytime, said Joe Podlasek, the
American Indian Center’s executive director.

“We want kids to know there are hundreds of different tribes and different
traditions,” Podlasek said. “We’re not just about teepees.”

The first exhibit, “50 Years of Powwow,” chronicles the history of the
American Indian Center’s powwows through photographs. It’s now on display at the
Field Museum in Chicago.

The American Indian Center, located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, has
been looking for a separate site that would accommodate a gallery for some time,
Podlasek said. The Schaumburg location was ideal not only because of the
bargain price but also because it extends the center’s reach into the suburbs.

It will join a handful of other American Indian resources, such as the
Schingoethe Center for Native American Culture at Aurora University.

“I think this will explode for us,” said Joe Podlasek, American Indian Center
director. “There’s an overwhelming number of artists waiting for space.”

The center could take possession of the Schaumburg property as soon as this
week, Podlasek said.