Chicago City Council 14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke

Chicago City Council Member Offends With ‘Peace Pipe’ Comment


What was meant to be a “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation” to commemorate the August 15, 1812 Battle of Fort Dearborn on Tuesday, June 5 turned out to be anything but when a city councilman inadvertently made an offensive remark.

The point of the resolution proposed by 14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke, titled “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation,” was to reconcile with the descendants of the Potawatomi tribe members who fought against the U.S. military and settlers in the Battle of Fort Dearborn just before the start of the War of 1812.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Burke suggested the descendants and the occupants of Fort Dearborn “smoke a peace pipe” as part of the celebration, which offended some Native Americans who were present.

Joseph Podlasek, executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago and citizen of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, was not happy with the remark, and even warned him against using it, said the Chicago Sun-Times.

“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.”

Burke says he didn’t mean to insult the Native Americans at the commemoration and said apologized. “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,” Burke was quoted as saying in various news outlets. “I viewed it as an opportunity, if that is a symbol of reconciliation and friendship, to incorporate that into the commemoration ceremonies.”

But his “peace pipe” comments weren’t all that was offensive from that day. Podlasek said Burke’s resolution didn’t include the Native American point of view, or the name of any Potawatomi who died that day, while three white soldiers were singled out and mentioned.

“There’s no reconciliation in what he proposed,” Podlasek told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a very one-sided stereotypical resolution that does not give credit to the Native people at all.”

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quinzy's picture
Submitted by quinzy on
When someone meets one of us from the reservation, they always begin with, "I hope I am not being offensive" or "I hope that wasn't offensive." And it always confused us because very few things offended us. Later I realize why people were always asking us if this or that was offensive and the Chicago mayor's peace pipe comment is a classic example. Many light-skinned Indians with no ties to a reservation and no real Indian culture in them are quick to take offense because taking offense is their way of expressing Indianness and their way of expressing solidarity with Indians. Otherwise they are mistaken for whites. But if they express offense, they must be Indian. So they express offense. Any one of us from the rez would have surely been disappointed that the name of any Potawatomi who died that day wasn't mentioned, while three white soldiers were singled out and mentioned. But none of us would have been offended by the peace pipe comment. We would have attributed that comment to the usual silly things whites say.