By Pat Nabong
On a vacant lot in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Native youth have taken root and are reclaiming their ancestral lands. The Chi-Nations Youth Council, which advocates for Native youth in Chicago, partnered with the American Indian Center to lease a vacant lot from the city, with the intention of creating a First Nations Garden, a dedicated space for Native Americans in the city where they can gather and grow their own food and medicine.
“As urban Natives, you know, a lot of us if we if we don’t live on the reservation, we don’t have the same political power as Natives who do live on reservations, so to have this space, you know, it’s kind of going along those lines [of sovereignty],” said Anthony Tamez, the co-president of Chi-Nations Youth Council, who identifies as Cree, Lakota and Black. “But it’s more just to, you know, have a space where we can come [together] because we’re never alone. … To have this space, an open space to come and be ourselves with each other is something that a lot of Native kids and a lot of Native youth, a lot of Native elders a lot of Native people in general in the city of Chicago is happy about.”
At the same time, in 2018, the Chi-Nations Youth Council, worked on a resolution acknowledging that Chicago is built on the “ancestral homeland to the Anishinaabek; Niswi-mishkodewin (Council of the Three Fires): Ojibwe, Odawa, and the Potawatomi along with dozens of tribes.” Chicago is home to more than seventy-five thousand “urban Indians,” according to the resolution, with “cultures spanning from more than 150 tribal nations.”
The city council passed the resolution in November after striking a phrase that described the displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples, according to alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th Ward. “We wanted to pass the resolution as quickly as possible before the land acknowledgment ceremony that took place [in the garden], and in order for us to do that, the mayor’s office and the law department requested that we remove references in the ordinance to genocide of Native people,” said alderman Ramirez-Rosa who worked closely with the Chi-Nations Youth Council throughout the process.
The First Nations Garden, an inter-generational space, means different things to different people, but many see it as a safe space where Native Americans can heal, grow and come together. The images below, which were captured over the span of three months, are a glimpse into what the garden means to different people and the process of reclamation and restoration.