James B. LaGrand. Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-1975. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. xii + 284 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-252-02772-7; $20.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-252-07296-3.
Reviewed by Dave Beck (Native American Studies Department, University of Montana)
Published on H-AmIndian (December, 2006)
Development of an Urban Indian Community
In the 1950s the federal government initiated policy efforts to end the tribal relationship with the United States on several fronts. This included efforts to terminate the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the Unite States; to provide state jurisdiction over tribal affairs; and to encourage tribal members to leave reservation communities and move to urban centers, large and small, local and distant. With a few significant exceptions, it is only recently that historians have begun to analyze these trends. The relocation effort provided part of the impetus for a migration that has changed the demographics of Indian America significantly over the past half-century: as of the 2000 census, over two-thirds of all American Indians live off-reservation. Nonetheless, there is a paucity of literature on this development. James B. LaGrand's work sheds light on some important aspects of this history.
LaGrand tells the story of the growth and change of the Chicago American Indian community in the post World War II years, during the time period that included first relocation of tribal members from reservations to cities, and then the development of community-based self-determination. He describes and analyzes American Indian migration to Chicago during a time in which he posits that "Chicago became an Indian metropolis" (p. 11), when the Native American population of the city grew from several hundred to over twenty thousand. In so doing, LaGrand "attempt[s] to determine what the phenomenon meant for those who migrated, for those who stayed on reservations, for cities like Chicago, and for the nation" (p. 5). He wants to show who came to the city and stayed, and why, and how they came to develop community. He also hopes to place his narrative within the larger contexts of Native American, U.S., and urban histories in the mid- to late twentieth century.
Using personal interviews, local tribal and city archival collections, newsletters and newspaper accounts, and Bureau of Indian Affairs records, LaGrand has both described federal policy initiatives and teased out an Indian voice that gives us insights into both migration and urban Indian life. LaGrand observes, "Almost every racial and ethnic group in the United States has become more urbanized since World War II, but none as quickly and dramatically as American Indians" (p. 3). While this assertion may be too broadly stated (it does not take into account the experience of new immigrant groups such as the Hmong for example), it does reflect the upheavals in Native American society that his book describes.
After discussing early and mid-twentieth-century changes in American Indian work and demography, and the development of the relocation policy, LaGrand tells the stories of individual Indian people that came to Chicago (some through relocation and some on their own), found work, and adapted to living in the city. He tells the stories of individuals as they made new lives for their families and as they created organizations such as the All Tribes American Indian Center to provide social outlets and social services to community members. He includes carefully researched demographic data regarding tribal affiliations and family structures of new arrivals to the city. He discusses the newcomers' motivations and fears, as well as their failures and successes in social, cultural, religious and economic terms. All this leads him to a chapter titled "A New Type of Indian," in which he describes what he refers to as a new identity.
In this chapter LaGrand argues that Indian identity in Chicago followed the national pattern of pan-Indianism, but he recognizes a regional variation. In the 1960s in urban centers across the United States, LaGrand argues, the identity of residents in general began to revolve around race. For Indians, that meant an increasingly generalized identification, especially through pow-wow culture, as "Indian." He refers to pow-wows as the "epitome of pan-Indianism" (p. 165). But the Indian Center remained a place where Indians from different tribal backgrounds continued to come together. However, the story is more complicated than this, as LaGrand points out: many tribal members in Chicago established their own culture clubs, and individuals from some local tribes, such as the Chippewa and Winnebago, dominated various aspects of community events.
LaGrand then provides an in-depth analysis of the development of the 1961 American Indian Chicago Conference (AICC), organized by Sol Tax at the University of Chicago, which drew tribal leaders from across the United States, who ultimately created a Statement of Indian Purpose that they presented to President John F. Kennedy. This event also provided a platform for the launching of new, young national Indian leaders. While some Chicago Indian leaders participated in this important event, it was largely ancillary to the history of the city's Indian community. In the rest of chapters 6 and 7 LaGrand delves into the history of the various national Indian organizations, social movements, and federal poverty programs, including those sponsored by the Office of Economic Opportunity. While this narrative helps the reader see a larger picture of what happened during this era, both for the benefit of the tribes and in relation to social change, it detracts from the story of the Chicago Indian community itself.
In the final full chapter, which focuses on a period of burgeoning activism in the Chicago Indian community in the 1960s and 1970s, LaGrand again draws attention away from the community itself, this time by focusing on the development of national Indian protest movements. Relying heavily on Paul Chatt Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (1996), and Russell Means and Marvin J. Wolf, Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means (1995), he describes the national scene but loses his focus on Chicago. His descriptions of protests in Chicago add a new dimension to our understanding of this era in Indian history, however. These protests extended outside the city to the suburbs, where numerous Indian families and individuals had moved to be closer to their jobs, and this suburban protest finds its place in LaGrand's story as well.
LaGrand is at his best when telling the stories of the diverse people who came to Chicago and made it their home. They created family and community with people of their own or different tribal backgrounds, and they came to navigate urban life while creating distinctive tribal communities that combined new and old ways at the same time. There are also numerous urban Indians who came for several decades and moved back home later in life, whose stories might change our understanding of urban communities and their effects on tribal people once again. But that would be the subject of an entirely different study. In the final analysis, LaGrand succeeds in broadening our understanding of the development of an American Indian community in Chicago. This book stands on its own as a valuable study of one aspect of the dramatic changes wrought by shifting federal policies and suffered by American Indians following the Second World War.
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Dave Beck. Review of LaGrand, James B., Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-1975.
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