[BearwWthoutBorders] Susan Kelly Power: Interview on urban Indians and other Native challenges

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Mon Mar 28 14:18:48 EDT 2011

Note by Hunter Bear:
This is a rich interview with a Native elder, Susan Kelly Power, Standing Rock Sioux.  Over the years I have posted a number of things involving Susan and her daughter, Susan Mary Power, a noted author [The Grass Dancer and other works.]  Both Susan and "Susie" are among our very oldest friends -- and we hear regularly from them.  "Big Susan" has been an extremely effective sparkplug for decades in Chicago -- truly one of the toughest towns. She has been consistently in the "good fight" since she was a child. During our family's years in Chicago and nearby Iowa City, we worked together closely with Susan and a number of other highly committed Indian people on a number of Native projects. [H]
Urban Native Americans feel they have a foot in two worlds
      Susan Kelly Power, 86, in her South Shore apartment. She is part of the Sioux nation and moved to Chicago about seven decades ago. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / March 28, 2011)


University of Chicago conference addresses issues affecting Indians who live in cities

Dawn Turner Trice 
March 28, 2011

Susan Power grew up in a three-room house on a South Dakota reservation, a stone's throw from where Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull was believed to be buried.

"Whenever we would see a car of white people driving up the road, my mother would send my sister and me out to sit near the grave," said Power, 86, a longtime Chicago activist and member of the Dakota nation. "We'd pretend we didn't speak English and we'd hear them talking about us. But we sat there because people were always trying to steal from his grave and they wouldn't do it if someone was looking."

Power left the reservation in 1942 and moved to Chicago to care for a relative. But she never lost her connection to the stories and the life on the reservation. She said it wasn't until 1961 when she attended a conference organized by noted University of Chicago anthropologist Sol Tax that she got a chance to address something many urban Indians were struggling with: the feeling of having a foot in two worlds and not belonging entirely to either.

On Saturday, Power will join other Native Americans from around the country at the University of Chicago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the conference many considered to be a groundbreaking event.

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"It was the first time that Indians from the reservation and from the city came together," Power said. "The conference helped remind people that whatever differences that were cropping up, those of us in urban areas still belonged to the reservation as if we were living there on a daily basis."

About 700 Native Americans attended that event and later presented the concerns of more than 80 tribal groups to the federal government. The conference, called the Declaration of Indian Purpose, reaffirmed the need for tribes to come together to protect their treaty rights and sovereignty.

The goal of Saturday's conference, which Power helped conceive, is to create a new national agenda for Native Americans who live in cities and are dealing with poor access to quality health care, high dropout rates and high unemployment, among other things.

Organizers of this year's conference are concerned that although urban Indians on average outnumber those on reservations 10-to-1, native people in urban areas are often invisible when it comes to getting federal funding geared toward Indians.

Last week, I met Power at her South Shore Drive apartment building. What you notice immediately about her is how tall and striking she is with her white hair pulled back from her face.

And though she has had some health problems over the years, she said she has no intention of slowing down. She still speaks regularly at engagements around the city and country, is on the elder council of the American Indian Association of Illinois and helps at polling places during election time.

She said there's still much to do, which is why she doesn't hold back on issues she finds particularly vexing: Upwardly mobile Native Americans who care more about themselves than those less fortunate; the high dropout rate among Indians in Chicago public schools; and the clusters of aimless young black men she passes on the streets of her South Shore neighborhood.

"Some of my neighbors worry about me walking to the library," she said. "But I care about those young men I see. And I treasure books and reading so much that I'm going to keep going over there until I can't anymore. I walk past them and nobody bothers the old Sioux dinosaur."

Power's fearlessness and concern stem from decades of activism. She has followed the example of her mother, who was an impassioned advocate for the rights and well-being of Indians.

"My mother was the first native woman in the country to be in a leadership position," Power said. "Once my mother was asked why she didn't have one of the new homes being built on the reservation. She said, 'When all my people have nice homes, then I'll consider it.'"

When Power came to Chicago nearly seven decades ago, there were only about 200 Native Americans in the city, she said.

"We had no cars or telephones, but we managed to find each other and stick together," she said. "If one got a job, we immediately did very well in it so that others could be hired too."

In 1944, she helped found the National Congress of American Indians in Chicago. She's the last living founding member. She is also the last living founding member of the American Indian Center of Chicago, which opened in 1953 and was the first of its kind in the nation.

Power said that although there was a plan to get Indians off reservations so their land could be taken away, many came to cities voluntarily searching for jobs and better schools.

"So, for some, it was a choice," she said. "But we still have the same rights as every member who lives on a reservation, and we're not getting access to those rights."

She said the idea that Indians on reservations benefit greatly from the largess of casinos is a myth.

"Tribes don't have sufficient funding to run their schools, hospitals and roads," she said. "But people in cities want the ability to compete for funding designated for Indian people. The goal has to be to help everyone prosper and pull forward."

dtrice at tribune.com 
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk 
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´ 
and Ohkwari' 
I have always lived and worked in the Borderlands.
Our Hunterbear website is now eleven years old..
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