"Putting Ourselves on Display": Urban Space, Militant Activism, and the Chicago Indian Village, 1970–72

Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:50 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Devin Hunter, Loyola University Chicago
Participants in the Chicago Indian Village (CIV)—a roving protest encampment operated by American Indian militants from 1970-1972—demanded housing reform in the economically disadvantaged Uptown neighborhood, home to about 13,000 Indians in 1970. CIV primarily targeted the city’s Department of Urban Renewal and the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity—the two agencies most closely associated with urban renewal. Their goals included concentrated adequate housing for Indians displaced by urban renewal, an Indian cultural affairs building, a rural retreat for urban Indians, and increased funding for Indian-owned businesses in the city.

CIV tactics demonstrated a sophisticated and aggressive organizing ethic—little surprise given the fact that its leader, Michael Chosa, had worked as an activist among California agriculture workers and had been trained by Saul Alinksy’s Industrial Areas Foundation. CIV also polarized the Uptown Indian community. Many denounced Chosa’s violent rhetoric, CIV’s tendency to serve as a site for alcohol and drug abuse, or its apparent preference for publicity over tangible results. Despite the post-colonial and identity-based rhetoric of its residents, CIV relied upon interracial funding and sympathy. Protesters accumulated non-Indian support from urban and suburban churches, public employee unions, and even Federal atomic scientists. Two years after its first encampment across the street from Wrigley Field, after harassment from several law enforcement agencies from every level, CIV disbanded and returned to Uptown, accepting housing assistance from a multiracial coalition of radical community organizers.

In this paper I argue that Chicago Indian Village participants expressed Indianness in a spatial context as a tactic that called attention to local demands. I place CIV in relation to contemporary contestations of urban space, most notably the Puerto Rican occupation of the McCormick Seminary and the unbuilt “Hank Williams Village,” a public housing site proposed by working-class southern white community activists.