By Hal Dardick
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.
"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."
“It’s a ceremonial pipe. There’s very sacred things that happen behind that. … Our pipes are very sacred items to us. We work with the Field, with the Smithsonian—many museums. They don’t use that language. That’s 40 years ago, 50 years ago. … Those are living, breathing parts of our culture,” he explained to the Chicago Sun-Times. “That pipe is very sacred to me. That would be [like] calling someone in your family some derogatory name. That’s the way we look at elements of our culture. It’s part of who we are.”
Frances Hagemann, who is Ojibwa and Metis, was also offended and told the Chicago Sun-Times that “It isn’t a peace pipe. The ceremonial pipe is a calumet. … It’s a part of the culture—the sharing of the tobacco. It’s about people being and working together honoring each other.”
By Mark Brown
I’ll bet many of you didn’t know, either.
Then again, I’d like to think it would have struck me as such a trite cliche that I would have avoided the phrase just on principle, especially in the context Ald. Ed Burke put it to use Tuesday—the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Dearborn.
In suggesting that descendants of the Potawatomi and the occupants of Fort Dearborn “smoke a peace pipe” to mark the events of Aug. 15, 1812, Burke failed to recognize many Native Americans consider that an insulting reference to one of their most sacred traditions.
As explained to me, it was a little like someone suggesting to the Irish-Catholic alderman that he observe the anniversary by holding Communion and making sure there was plenty of beer on hand.
It’s not surprising—or particularly worthy of condemnation—that Burke would have made such a slip while introducing his resolution proclaiming a “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation.”
What’s rather hard to understand is why Burke would have done so after being explicitly warned against using the phrase by a local Native American leader with whom he’d previewed his remarks, or why he repeated the insult a second time to City Hall reporter Fran Spielman while offering only a qualified apology.
In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen Indians complain about the phrase "peace pipe." I'm not sure I've ever complained about it either. When it was one of a group of stereotypes, yes, but not by itself.
But there's no excuse for Burke to use the phrase after people told him they consider it offensive. Along with his one-sided resolution, we can imagine he doesn't have much use for Indians. In his heart, he may think they're still semi-savages.
For more on the subject, see List of Stereotypical Indian Labels.