The Morton Arboretum is located on ancestral homelands of the Council of Three Fires—the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi—and many other tribes that resided on or migrated through this land for generations, including the Illinois, Miami, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Ho-Chunk.
Round Meadow Village, one of four main Potawatomi villages in what is now DuPage County, thrived along the East Branch of the DuPage River within the present-day boundary of the Arboretum, near Lake Marmo.
The area was a place for harvesting, hunting, and trade for the Potawatomi, and it also provided seasonal shelter for other Indigenous tribes. By the 1800s, non-Indigenous settlers had encroached on the area, leading to decades of conflict and loss.
On September 26, 1833, decimated by warfare, disease, and loss of territory, the Potawatomi ceded their remaining lands to the American government by signing the Treaty of Chicago.
Many were forcibly removed to Kansas, along what became known as the Trail of Death, and later to Oklahoma, while others lived among the non-Indigenous settlements. Some continued on at Round Meadow Village into the 1840s.
The oldest trees at the Arboretum, some dating back to the 1760s, stood witness to these events. These trees serve as a reminder of this history and the Arboretum’s responsibility to recognize the continuing presence and importance of Indigenous peoples in the region.
Today, the Chicago region is home to approximately 65,000 Indigenous peoples, with more than 175 tribal nations represented. Nearly 3,700 Indigenous peoples live in DuPage County. The Arboretum is committed to supporting this enduring community by developing partnerships and programs that honor and give voice to Indigenous communities.
Commitment to Action
The Morton Arboretum seeks to support Indigenous communities through meaningful action and ongoing relationships with Indigenous organizations and individuals.
Programs and partnerships currently implemented, under development, or in consideration include:
- Amplifying Indigenous voices by hosting Indigenous speakers in education programs for adults and families.
- Connecting visitors to the history of Indigenous peoples, plants, and landscapes through programs, interpretation, exhibits, and social media.
- Understanding needs within Indigenous communities that the Arboretum may be able to help meet through its programs and other resources.
- Incorporating the perspectives and expertise of Indigenous peoples into Arboretum history and research initiatives.
- Implementing a policy to address the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the rights of lineal descendants and organizations to Indigenous cultural items that might be found on the grounds of The Morton Arboretum.
The Arboretum thanks the following individuals for the energy and knowledge they shared to help shape this statement: Gina Roxas, ANA Coordinator, Trickster Cultural Center (Prairie Band Potawatomi); Mary Smith, Interim Executive Director, Mitchell Museum of the American Indian (Cherokee); and Theodore Peterson, Operations and Outreach Manager, Mitchell Museum of the American Indian (Ojibwe).
Frequently Asked Questions
Recognizing the land shows gratitude and is a way of honoring the Indigenous peoples who have lived and worked on the land, generation after generation. Acknowledging the history of the land on which The Morton Arboretum is located presents an opportunity to support, raise awareness of, and collaborate with Indigenous communities today.
As an organization committed to inclusion and in service to the public, The Morton Arboretum seeks to recognize the role of Indigenous communities, and take active steps to raise awareness of the continued presence and contributions of Indigenous communities today. It celebrates the fact that Indigenous communities are vibrant and enduring, keeping their histories and diverse cultures alive despite injustices of the past. A land acknowledgment can also recast perceptions and understandings of Indigenous communities by specifically naming and describing the numerous, distinct nations that lived or gathered on the land.
As a part of the Arboretum’s long-term commitment to greater inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA), this Land Acknowledgment is a first step in recognizing historical injustices against Indigenous communities. The Arboretum is also taking steps to further engage and support Indigenous communities.