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Walking Museum To Honor City’s Native American History With Serpent Mound And More — But Organizers Need Your Help

The Northwest Portage Walking Museum would feature a coil mound and a serpent mound designed by indigenous artist Santiago X.

Rendering of what the serpent mound at Schiller Woods would look like.
Image courtesy Santiago X
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IRVING PARK — A walking museum that would honor the Native Americans who first called Chicago home is closer to becoming a reality — but organizers are looking for some funding to get the project across the finish line.

The Chicago Public Art Group is asking for the public’s help to fund the Northwest Portage Walking Museum.

The trail would stretch along Irving Park Road — between the North Branch of the Chicago River at Horner Park and the Des Plaines River at Schiller Woods west of Harlem Avenue.

The proposed stops along the Northwest Portage Walking Museum.

“We in Chicago have one of the largest urban Indian populations in the entire country,” said Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago. “It’s super important to us to help folks rethink the history of this nation. We know Chicago was founded because our great-grand relatives knew that the rivers here are amazing. And Chicago’s always been a city with tons of native folks.”

Last August, plans for the eastern trailhead of the museum at Horner Park were unveiled, including a Native American coil mound designed by indigenous artist Santiago X. On the other end of the museum trail at Schiller Woods will be a serpent mound designed by the same artist.

The project is a collaboration between the American Indian Center of Chicago, Chicago Public Art Group and the Portage Park Neighborhood Association.

Proposed design of the mound at Horner Park.

Last year, the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust awarded $75,000 to the project.

Two fundraising events last fall also helped raise an additional $3,700; and over the last few months, $10,000 from the Illinois Arts Council and $7,500 from an anonymous donor have been donated to help build the museum trail.

“And right now we’re looking at in-kind donations and more funding to fill the gap between what we have now and what we need to build these mounds,” said Maryrose Pavkovic, managing director at the Chicago Public Art Group.

The project’s partners are currently reviewing quotes from potential contractors.

Materials alone to complete the coil mound at Horner Park would cost an estimated $103,500, while the serpent mound’s materials are estimated to cost $42,000.

The coil mound aspect of the project was originally set to break ground at Horner Park last September but the project is still waiting for approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pavkovic said.

Back in February 2014, engineers began a $5.6 million ecosystem restoration project at Horner Park.

This required fencing off about 14 acres of the park and 2,600 feet of riverbank so crews could restore the park’s oak savanna habitat, remove invasive species and perform other landscaping improvements to restore the natural features of the North Branch of the Chicago River at Horner Park.

Current plans call for a 12-foot-tall mound that would be seeded with buffalo grass and take about two years to complete.

Also near the southeast corner of Horner Park, near where the coil mound would be built, crews are currently replacing the Irving Park bridge as well as getting the area ready for its eventual connection to the 312 RiverRun trail.

With all that construction, and while the coil mound waits for approval, the project has shifted to getting the western end of the museum trail ready first.

“Our goal is to have the serpent mound at Schiller Woods done over the summer with hopefully a celebration or unveiling on Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 14,” Pavkovic said.

For more information on the museum trail and how to donate click here or visit the project’s Facebook page.

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