Library’s land acknowledgment ceremony set for Saturday in Fishel Park

Understanding the history of a community isn’t merely old photos and structures. Long before settlers came upon the land and built their farms, the area known as Downers Grove was home to Native American tribes that were the first to cultivate the land.

At an Oct. 2 event, the Downers Grove Public Library staff officially will present to the community a formal land acknowledgment, a living document that recognizes the library’s land as sitting on unceded, traditional and ancestral homes of Native Americans.

The document is the product of months of research, discussions and the development of greater understanding about the history of the area and the story of Native Americans who were forced to displace from their lands, library officials said.

Cindy Khatri, the library’s public relations manager, said the initiative for the land acknowledgment came from a suggestion from a library patron and a staff librarian early in 2021. Creating a land acknowledgment fit with the library’s efforts to provide greater equity, diversity and inclusion.

“This year has been about understanding our role with equity, diversity and inclusion and we’ve found places we were lacking,” Khatri said.

Staff librarian Van McGary led the research efforts to create the land acknowledgment and is the author of the document. McGary worked with Midwest SOARRING Foundation President and Founder Joseph Standing Bear Schranz to build the narrative about the Native American history in the area and include their story in the history of the community.

“We’re excited about the impact it will make,” Khatri said.

The document doesn’t note a singular tribe. This was an intentional omission in order not to show emphasis for one tribe over another, Khatri said. Several tribes have been recognized as living in northern Illinois including Ho-Chunk, Iroquois, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Menominee, Miami, Odawa, Ojibwe, Peoria, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox and Sioux.

Khatri said the library staff is excited to share land acknowledgment and help bring to light a new chapter of history in the community.

“I’ve learned so much,” Khatri said. “It’s really amazing to relearn history.”

The formal reading of the land acknowledgment will be at 10 a.m. at Fishel Park, located on Grove Street west of Main Street. The reading will be followed by remarks from the library’s board of trustees and Joseph Standing Bear Schranz. There will be a ceremonial healing dance performed by Native American dancers from the Midwest SOARRING Foundation.

After the ceremony, the library staff invites the community to the library to explore crafts and visit the art exhibit. The library staff has created a page on the library’s website to answer questions and offers several book titles for adults through toddlers to share the stories of Native Americans.

“The library is really proud to be able to gather resources,” Khatri said. “This is truly a labor of love. Van has done a phenomenal job and she has made sure our Native parties feel good about this.”

One of the goals is to inspire other entities to consider crafting land acknowledgment, something proposed by Downers Grove Village Commissioner Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt, who brought the item for consideration at a village council meeting earlier this year.

“I hope we can embrace this as a larger community,” Sadowski-Fugitt said. “Because the purpose of a land acknowledgment is not just saying something happened, but it is also to acknowledge these tribes still exist.”