Growing Circle and 800 Year Old Seeds








The Growing Circle is a new group that has been meeting at the American Indian Center every Thursday to plan gardens, tap maples, and discuss food sovereignty. Utilizing social media and the AIC as a base, the goal of the Growing Circle is to empower people to harvest wild foods and cultivate nutritional goodness while building relationships with the land and people in the process.

Recently, the Growing Circle was gifted some very special seeds from Sue Menzel of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe. What makes these seeds so special? Let’s see – they are 850 years old and once thought to be extinct! They came from an archeological dig in Menominee and the seeds were found in a clay pot with other seeds, and named Gete Okosomin (meaning “big old squash”) by Winona La Duke.

Many people don’t know this, but many of our traditional foods have been rendered extinct, largely due to modern agriculture’s industrial approach favoring a few cash crops over an entire variety of native fruits and vegetables. Critics also suggest that Genetically Modified Organisms, are also killing native seeds. That’s why, Gete Okosomin is something to celebrate. Every time someone successfully grows Gete Okosomin and saves the seeds, it’s a victory for our people.

Now, the Growing Circle is challenged to distribute the 850 year old squash seeds to members of the Growing Circle. Just to let you know, the Gete Okosomin is a mammoth of a squash, quite large and heavy. The plan is to establish traditional seven sisters garden beds among eligible Growing Circle members who have room for a garden and understand the importance of seeing that Gete Okosomin doesn’t become cross pollinated. The Growing Circle will be monitoring the progress of these gardens as a club and will share pictures via Facebook.

Besides planting Seven Sisters gardens, we’ll be doing some things we do every year, like working in the medicine garden and harvesting wild foods with the kids. Last year, we tapped maples for the first time and this year we’ve continued that old tradition, tapping a few maples around the center. We’re also encouraging folks to tap maples at home, too.

A few years back, the American Indian Center was awarded a plot of land at the Dunning Read Mental Health Facility on Irving Park and Oak Park. So far, we have used this plot of land to host Indigenous Science Days and to study land remediation. As far as wild foods to harvest at Dunning, you can find several edibles including Wild Plum, Cattails, and Milk Weed. The Growing Circle is also in the process of organizing work days to help in this development.

If you’re looking for something new, towards the end of spring, the Growing Circle will be helping to install and manage an Oak Savanna made up of a majority of native plants and wetland trees and shrubs. This plot of land is part of an agreement with Metra and the American Indian Center, to manage a site off the Metra line at Ravenswood and Wilson Avenue, 2 blocks west of the AIC.

There are some big things happening at the AIC, big 800 year old squash type things. If you’re interested in being a part of this revolutionary experience, join our Growing Circle group on Facebook or email us at We really need your help in making this circle grow. Miigwetch.

For more information about the Growing Circle, e-mail us at or join our Growing Circle page on Facebook.


2nd Annual Sōpomāhtek (maple tree) Activities

On March 15th, 2014, Indigenous Science Day participants took part in the 2nd annual Sōpomāhtek (Menominee for maple tree) Activities at the American Indian Center of Chicago. There are a total of three Maples tapped around the American Indian Center of Chicago. Last year one Sōpomāhtek produced approximately 10 gallons of sap. Once the sap was cooked down there was only a few ounces of sōpomātek-sōpomah (maple sugar, Menominee). This year, we will hope for more sōpomātek-sōpomah and we will work hard to get it. Last year’s winter produced approximately 30 inches of snow and this year’s winter has produced almost 70 inches of snow and we will see how this effects our sōpomātek-sōpomah. Stay tuned for more details and future sōpomah Activities!

As we learned from the story of Manabozho, the creator made the world easy for people and a long time ago sōpomātek-sōpomah used to drip from the branches of maple trees. And one day, Manabozho decided to go for a walk and see how his friends, the Anishnabe were doing and he couldn’t find anyone, no one was hunting, no one fishing and no one was tending their crops, and no one was picking berries. He walked through the forest and found that people were laying under the Sōpomāhtek, letting the thick syrup drip into their mouths.
So, Manabozho went down to the river. He took with him a big basket he had made of birch bark. With this basket, he brought back many buckets of water. He went to the top of the maple trees and poured water in, so that it thinned out the syrup. Now, thick maple syrup no longer dripped out of the broken twigs. Now what came out was thin and watery and just barely sweet to the taste.
“This is how it will be from now on,” Manabozho said. “No longer will syrup drip from the maple trees. Now there will only be this watery sap. When people want to make maple syrup they will have to gather many buckets full of the sap in a birch bark basket like mine. They will have to gather wood and make fires so they can heat stones to drop into the baskets. They will have to boil the water with the heated stones for a long time to make even a little maple syrup. Then my people will no longer grow fat and lazy. Then they will appreciate this maple syrup the Creator made available to them. Not only that, this sap will drip only from the trees at a certain time of the year, when the nights are cold and the days are warm. Then it will not keep people from hunting and fishing and gathering and hoeing in the fields. This is how it is going to be,” Manabozho said.
And, that is how it is to this day. 

For more information about Indigenous Science Days, email OR
Join the group on Facebook at Indigenous Science Day

Chi-Nations Youth Council is Going to Red Lake!



On March 8th, the Chi-Nations Youth Council (CNYC) had a very successful fundraiser at the AIC, selling plates of ogaa (Ojibwe word for Walleye) and manoomin (Ojibwe word for wild rice) at $12 a plate. The ogaa and manoomin was a gift from Darwin Sumner of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Chief Meskokonaye Youth Cultural Camp in Red Lake, MN. This donation is to help fund a spring break harvest camp in Red Lake beginning on April 14th.


Darwin came prepared with 3 kids, 230 walleye filets, 20 lbs of rice, and an award winning fry bread cook – Adele from Rosebud, SD. It took 12 hours to drive from Red Lake, MN to Chicago, IL.  Darwin and his crew even hunkered down at the center for a couple nights – leaving the morning after the fundraiser. Asked about his stay at the center, Darwin said, “everyone just had a blast. This is one of the best fundraisers I’ve ever put on and we can’t wait to come back and do it again!”

Not only is Darwin running the camp in April, he’s also a great cook, he said, “It’s amazing how many people ask me for my batter and tartar sauce recipe.  People kept coming into the kitchen asking me about it. I just said ‘I can’t tell you that’. Every place I go they tell me to market it myself. It’s all trial and error you know.”

It was a great event that lasted all day and everyone helped out. The kids helped plan the event, serve guests, took orders, sold raffle tickets, helped in the kitchen, helped set up, and even held signs in front of the building.  Through this event, the CNYC nearly reached their goal of $3,500 (WOOHOO!). The CNYC thanks everyone who helped out with special donations:  Lynne Wendler, Eli Suzukovich III, Sharon Skolnick, Robert Wapahi, June Thiele and ‘Stage 773’, Norma Robertson, and the Red Line Drum group who donated honorarium money from a recent powwow.


Anthony Pochel of CNYC says this trip is important to him because, “we get to represent our community, learn about our culture, build up our relationships, and become better leaders.”  Last year, CNYC went to Red Lake, taking five kids and this year we’ll be bringing four more kids than last year. CNYC advisor Janie Pochel said, “this is cool because the kids who are going back will have the opportunity to teach the new kids about Red Lake and beaver trapping.” Last year’s trip was a success by all accounts. Nobody got lost or hurt and everyone had a good time. Last year, camp was focused on ice fishing and trapping. This year, we plan on helping in the sugar bush – tapping maples and birches.

This year’s harvest camp, we’ll be sleeping outside. This was done because tapping maples is a seriously big deal, especially when you’re tapping hundreds of trees, you don’t have the luxury of going home at the end of the day because someone has to watch over and cook all that sap. Not only that, you have to be around to watch over your pails to make sure animals don’t help themselves to the yummy goodness flowing from the trees.
Since it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple sugar, everyone at the camp has to help.  People would have to fish and cook. Grandmas watch over the food and kids. Kids checked taps and gathered firewood. Everyone took turns stirring the sap until the water was evaporated leaving maple syrup.  Darwin says the CNYC, “can expect to get a lot of exercise with long days that can be a little chilly at times, so you’re going to have to wear extra clothing, we’re going to camp out, and we’re going to do some beaver trapping.”

Tapping maples is something we had to do long ago to just survive and feed our people.  The maple syrup was more than just a sweetener.  It was used for many things, including money. During the fall it was used to preserve meat. So it was one of the most valuable commodities.  I’ve even heard some people say that maple sugar was traded as far south as Florida and Mexico.  So it has a history of bringing people together from multiple communities, just like the AIC-Red Lake connection happening today.

Chi-Nation’s t-shirt sale was also a success selling over 50 t-shirts. The Chi-Nation’s Youth Council is still young and looking for new members. If you are interested in becoming a part of Chi-Nation’s as a donor, member, or advisor – please email us at

Also, be on the look-out for some digital stories to come out of this trip to Red Lake.


For more information or questions about the Chi-Nations Youth Council or the trip to Red Lake, email David Bender at

AIC at the Ethnography in Education Research Forum

Dr. Bang and members from the AIC education department were invited by Indigenous scholar, Dr. Bryan Brayboy, to present at the 35th annual Ethnography in Education Research forum earlier this month. To prepare for the event, we looked at four digital stories created last spring by staff members around their personal relationships to land, and the land-based programming taking place in community. We noticed central themes that came up across all stories such as issues of identity, roles and responsibilities to family, community and nation, stories of resiliency and empowerment, migration stories, possible futures (brighter ones), etc. Through engaging in Indigenous knowledge systems in Chicago, we are reclaiming cultural traditional practices and languages in a Native urban setting. For more info on our presentation or to view the digital stories we analyzed, please use the same contact information below.Upcoming national conferences where AIC, NU, and UW-Seattle staff members will be presenting on behalf of Chicago Intertribal and Menominee communities!

  1. March 30-April 2 National Association for Research and Science Teaching in Pittsburg, PA
  2. April 3 Chicago Wilderness Conference presenting on Community based gardens and land restoration. Presenting along with Bronzeville Historical Society and Casa Michoaocan.
  3. April 3-7 American Education Research Association in Philadelphia, PA
  4. April 14-17 First Nations Development Institute and Oneida Nation 2nd annual Food Sovereignty Summit
  5. June 23-27 International Society of the Learning Sciences Conference in Boulder, CO
For more information about these events, or for a free copy of publications by NSF staff (only made possible by community participation and engagement in reclaiming our education for our future!!!!!), please call AIC to speak with a staff member or email Yaw^ko swakweku! (Thank you relatives!)