Skip to main content

For Indigenous Peoples Day, community members convened to celebrate a collaborative, placemaking earthwork

The Chicago Community Trust is currently funding 11 community-led riverfront projects through their Our Great Rivers grant. This piece is part of our 2019 series highlighting these projects.

Photos courtesy of Chicago Public Art Group

At this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day on October 14th, guests gathered in Schiller Woods on Chicago’s Northwest Side for a historic moment: the Serpent Mound Celebration and Ribbon Cutting.

The serpent mound is the first installation of new effigy mounds by an indigenous peoples in North America since the founding of the United States. This significant homage to the ancestral practice of mound building educates the public about the rich cultural history of placemaking, and activates the human connection to the Des Plaines River.

The celebration started in front of the new serpent mound with a land acknowledgement, ribbon cutting, and site activation by Native American dancers, drummers, and singers. Attendees then moved to the canoe launch site for painting, planting, s’mores, and archery practice. Photo courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Utilizing Chicago Community Trust’s Our Great Rivers grant, The Chicago Public Art Group, the American Indian Center and its partners commissioned the Native American artist Santiago X to design and construct the serpent mound. Through collaborative workshops with community and youth members from the American Indian Center, Santiago X developed designs for sites at Horner Park, near the Chicago River, and Schiller Woods, near the Des Plaines River.

Through these workshops, Santiago X decided to create two earthwork mounds, both following a serpent theme. The ribbon cutting and celebration marks an important milestone as the first publicly accessible site along the North West Portage Walking Museum (NWPWM).

As members of the Chicago Community Trust’s Our Great Rivers cohort, the Chicago Public Art Group and the American Indian Center formed a partnership with the Portage Park Neighborhood Association to establish the NWPWM.

NWPWM is a collaborative proposal for a multi-faceted learning experience that is deeply rooted in the natural environment and cultural histories of Chicago. Envisioned as an “outdoor museum,” the project will be anchored by major commissioned public artworks along the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers. The Chicago Public Art Group hopes to leverage the NWPWM to allow for collaborative place-keeping processes that strengthen community bonds.

In developing the NWPWM’s plans for the riverfront, The Chicago Public Art Group, the American Indian Center, and its partners contribute to the vision of Our Great Rivers in a number of exciting ways, from highlighting the cultural and historical relationships that exist between rivers and nearby communities, to enrichen the Chicago region’s riverfronts with public art, and connecting communities through placemaking opportunities.

Our Great Rivers / Great Rivers Chicago: MPC’s Blogs and highlights on Our Great Rivers are made possible in large part by the Chicago Community Trust, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Union Pacific Foundation, BNSF Corporation, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ArcellorMittal, Comcast Corporation, and individual donors.