Indigenous Partnerships: The Seeds of Change

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Indigenous partnerships: The seeds of change

By Aarón Siebert-Llera, Director of Inclusion at The Morton Arboretum

As an organization committed to inclusion, The Morton Arboretum recognizes the vital role of Indigenous communities and is taking active steps to raise awareness of the continued presence and contributions of Indigenous peoples today. On this Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 11, 2021), the Arboretum celebrates the vibrant communities of Indigenous peoples that have endured and kept their rich histories and diverse cultures alive, despite the lingering injustices still faced by many Indigenous communities today.

The oldest trees at the Arboretum, some dating back to the 1760s, stood witness to the Indigenous peoples who either lived on or passed through the lands where the Arboretum now stands. The Potawatomi, Odawa, Ojibwe, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Miami, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee, among others, spent time here. These trees serve as a reminder of this history and of the Arboretum’s responsibility to recognize the continuing presence and importance of Indigenous peoples in the region. 

Earlier this year, the Morton Arboretum issued a land acknowledgment statement recognizing the history of the land and committing the institution to ongoing partnerships with Indigenous peoples. The statement was drafted in partnership with local Indigenous community members. Their involvement was imperative in centering the acknowledgment on the original stewards of the land who still live among us and should be respected and honored, not forgotten. The land acknowledgment is one way to recast perceptions and misunderstandings of Indigenous communities by specifically naming and describing the numerous, distinct nations that lived or gathered on the land. Far too often, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities are written out of history in clear attempts at erasure. Institutions such as The Morton Arboretum have a duty to be a part of the solution to change this harmful narrative. The Arboretum is honored and committed to doing its part.  

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, home of the Arboretum.

The Arboretum is committed to supporting these enduring communities by developing partnerships and programs that honor and amplify the voices of Indigenous communities and making its land acknowledgment more than just an artifact of recent history. It is a living, breathing document that will ultimately change as we grow and learn. The Arboretum will continue to apply the knowledge that we receive from these budding relationships so that we can develop into a more welcoming space. 

The Morton Arboretum is committed to a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible Arboretum. Embracing these ideals makes all of us better. Current partnerships include courses taught by Indigenous instructors in adult education programs, welcoming a member of the Choctaw Nation to harvest dogwood on-site to be used for creating artwork by members of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, and ongoing conversations with organizations such as Trickster Cultural Center to understand how the Arboretum can forge stronger connections. The Arboretum is committed to ensuring that the myriad wonderful contributions that Indigenous communities continue to make to our nation are made known to a larger audience. 

The Arboretum is developing sincere relationships built on trust over time with Indigenous communities. Beyond today’s observance, the Arboretum will continue to acknowledge the many amazing contributions—past, present, and future—of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (the Indigenous name for North America). Watch for future programming centered around the Arboretum’s engagement with Indigenous partners.


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