Ald. Edward Burke stirred a conflict today with Native Americans, even as he sought reconciliation with descendants of the Potawatomi tribe members who fought the U.S. military and early area settlers in the Battle of Fort Dearborn.
Joseph Podlasek, executive director of Chicago's American Indian Center, said a resolution Burke proposed to establish a "Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation" on this summer's 200th anniversary of the battle failed to include the Native American point of view.
"There's no reconciliation in what he proposed," said Podlasek, who has Native American ancestry. "It's a very one-sided stereotypical resolution that does not give credit to the native people at all."
Particularly troubling, he added, was nary a mention by name of a single Potawatomi, when three white soldiers are singled out for their sacrifice.
"We can't rewrite history — it is what it is," responded Burke, 14th, the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee.
Burke's resolution, endorsed by two committees for consideration Wednesday by the full City Council, seeks to commemorate the Aug. 15, 1812 Battle of Fort Dearborn, that occurred at the start of the War of 1812.
Fort Dearborn, near the current intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, was evacuated on orders from the military. Two miles south, at what is now 18th Street and Prairie Avenue, a battle took place.
Within just 15 minutes, 35 soldiers, 12 militiamen, 14 settlers and 15 Potawatomi were killed "in what became the first tragedy in Chicago's history," Burke said. He also mentioned a female slave and her infant son who were killed.
In his speech, Burke noted a warning from a local trader not to leave the fort, but did not mention similar warnings from two Potawatomi pointed out by local historian Frances Hagemann, also of Native American descent.
Burke said he was amenable to trying to work things out with Podlasek, who said he was also troubled by Burke's offer to include a "peace pipe" in the celebration.
"He said maybe we should all sit down and smoke a peace pipe," Podlasek said, saying the term "peace pipe" is derogatory. "That's very offensive. Our pipes are very sacred items to us."
Burke said he meant no offense.
"If I've insulted him, I apologize," Burke said. "I think the term peace pipe is something that is commonly understood in North America to be a symbol of reconciliation and conciliation. That was my only intention. . . . I viewed it as an opportunity, if that is a symbol of reconciliation and friendship, to incorporate that into the commemoration ceremonies."