Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75

Article excerpt

Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75. By James B. LaGrand. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Pp. Xii, 284. Illus., notes, bib., index. Cloth, $34.95).

In September 2004 the Smithsonian Institution will open a new museum in Washington, D.C. : The Museum of the North American Indian. The first exhibit will feature three native communities, including the Chicago American Indian Center (CAIC). The nation's oldest urban Indian center, the CAIC is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year (2003-2004). James B. LaGrand's Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75 comes just in time to celebrate both of these milestones. Indeed, despite popular images of Indians as rural, reservation-based people, during the second half of the twentieth century the majority of American Indians had moved to cities (as many as 53 percent by 1980).

Focusing on Chicago's Indian community, LaGrand uses the methods of immigration studies to explore this population shift and the experiences of the native people who took part in it. He then examines the move's effect on peoples' tribal identities, offering the reader a strong social and cultural history. By demonstrating that American Indian people of the upper midwest were a part of Chicago's hinterland, he also adds a human aspect to the economic interactions described by William Cronon in Nature's Metropolis. An important addition to the slowly-growing literature on the history of urban Indians, LaGrand's book also captures a dimension of Chicago's neighborhood history that will interest a general audience.

LaGrand argues that no single factor can explain the rapid urbanization of Indians in the 1950s and 1960s. In this he differs from previous historians who have focused exclusively on the federal policies of relocating Indians to urban centers and trying to terminate their official tribal status. Instead he explores the decisions of individual native people using immigration history's model of push and pull factors. In addition to federal relocation policy, he argues that push factors included reservation poverty and lack of job opportunities. The availability of wartime jobs, the offreservation experiences of veterans, and a higher standard of living all constituted pull factors. LaGrand also claims that the move fit into older native patterns of economic mobility. Finally, like many immigrant groups, chain migration played an important role in pulling Indian people to Chicago.

LaGrand also recognizes that such factors as timing of migration, tribal affiliation, and gender all affected migration patterns and experiences. Rather than focus on a monolithic "Indian" experience, therefore, he uses untapped federal relocation files to point out significant tribal differences. For example, he demonstrates that Sioux migrants tended to move to Chicago in family groups while Chippewa (Ojibwa) people were younger, single, and more often female. …