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Sculpture Honoring Portage Park's Native American Heritage Unveiled

By Heather Cherone | October 13, 2013 8:25am
  The sculpture honors Native Americans who traveled through what is now the Six Corners Shopping District.
Sculpture Honoring Portage Park's Native American Heritage Unveiled
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PORTAGE PARK — With the rhythmic pounding of a drum circle providing a sonic backdrop, more than 200 people gathered Saturday at Six Corners for the unveiling of a sculpture honoring the area's Native American heritage.

Crafted out of aluminum by Ted Sitting Crow Garner, "Portage", a 10-foot-by-6-foot sculpture, depicts an abstract figure swinging a canoe on to its back in tribute to the Native Americans who traveled through what is now Six Corners — the intersection of Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues.

The sculpture, which is outside the Sears store on Cicero, is a testament to the effort underway to turn Six Corners into an arts and entertainment mecca — and to regain a measure of the area's former luster as the biggest shopping district outside the Loop.

Drum Circle at the "Portage"
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DNAInfo/Heather Cherone

"This is evidence of our commitment to the arts and our history," said Ald. John Arena (45th), who helped tug a black sheet off the sculpture.

The sculpture was unveiled as part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Sears store, which was once drew shoppers from all over the city and suburbs.

Under a cloudy sky threatening rain, Garner, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said he dubbed the sculpture "Portage" not only because that is how you move a canoe from one place to the other but also because it is a metaphor for moving forward and onward.

As part of the unveiling, G.b. Starr-Bresette of the American Indian Center blessed the sculpture with a sage smudging and called forth "the spirits from all directions to honor those ancestors who traveled through this area."

Portage Park got its name because it was the connection point between the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers. The area was once so swampy that travelers could easily paddle through the area.

The sculpture starts to tell the story of the Native Americans who traveled through the area to survive, tales which have largely been ignored by most history books, Starr-Bresette said.

The sculpture, which took about nine weeks to complete, cost $30,000, said Ed Bannon, the executive director of the Six Corners Business Association. It was paid for by the business district's Special Service Area fund, he said. 

The sculpture is more evidence that Six Corners is rebounding after several decades of empty storefronts and dwindling shoppers, Bannon said.