Loyola community members met last week to discuss a mural in Cudahy Library which some say poorly depicts Indigenous people.
Four panel members from Loyola or of Indigenous background spoke to a group of about 70 people, both in-person and via Zoom, about the complex yet problematic nature of the painting.
Sean Jacobson, a PhD candidate in Loyola’s history department and the first speaker on the panel, said the 1930s painting by Chicago artist John W. Norton portrays native people as “servile.”
The mural is a map of the Mississippi River created by a French Jesuit priest named Jacques Marquette in the 1670s and depicts the exploration and evangelization of native lands by Jesuit missionaries.
“It’s a romanticized portrayal of the French Jesuit priests who were doing evangelization in the Great Lakes area,” Jacobson said in an interview with The Phoenix. “Now looking back, and with more knowledge and activism from Indigenous communities, we realize the portrayals are very dated and not accurate.”
Jacobson said he encourages the university to acknowledge Indigenous communities and history, whether that’s through more Indigenous artwork on campus or working to inform the community about more accurate Indigenous history.
“This initiative to acknowledge and address these issues of Indigenity on campus is going to be a long process,” Jacobson told The Phoenix. “This mural is just a starting point. … We’re looking at achieving generational changes and how if Indigenous people feel comfortable being on campus.”
Joseph Standing Bear Schranz — founder of the Indigenous non-profit network Midwest SOARRING Foundation and a speaker on Loyola’s recent panel — said he’s happy Loyola is discussing the mural because libraries and universities should always display the truth, regardless of whether it’s good or bad.
“We didn’t ask anyone to come or teach us or do anything for us,” Schranz said. “We already had a culture.”
Rev. Stephen Mitten, a Jesuit and a senior lecturer for Loyola’s School of Environmental Sustainability, said during the panel that the map depicts a “romanticized notion of the normal savage.”
“Every map is a lie,” Mitten said regarding the mural. “Whoever makes the map has a vision or idea or point of view.”
Ella Doyle, the president of the Student Government of Loyola Chicago and only student on the panel, said all of Loyola’s actions regarding Indigeneity have been “performative” — including Loyola’s recently drafted Land Acknowledgement recognizing the Indigenous land on which the university is built.
Loyola formally acknowledged the Indigenous land which the university is built on Oct. 7, The Phoenix previously reported. Doyle at the time noted the “performative” nature of the acknowledgement, but she said it’s “an important first step” toward more conversation and tangible actions.
“No one is going to change something that no one cares about,” Doyle told The Phoenix.
Doyle said during the recent panel discussion that she’s not sure what the solution for the mural is.
“If we’re able to do the basic recognition and the basic performative actions, that lays out steps ahead of us so that we can move forward with different things like this panel and move towards tangible change when it comes to Indigenous visibility,” said Doyle, who has Indigenous background and is a member of the Cherokee nation.
“Although it’s one side of the story, it’s the side of the story that has always been told,” Doyle said during the panel.
Solidarity is the most important thing moving forward, Doyle said, and she encourages Loyola to create safe spaces for Indigenous communities to engage with the university.
“They’re not offering anything other than this mural, so what reason does anybody have to come and engage with us on it?” Doyle said.
University officials didn’t respond to request for comment by the time of publication.