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Northwestern gets green light for stadium rebuild despite Native American opposition

Decision followed six-hour city council meeting

The Evanston, Illinois city council voted Monday to allow Northwestern University to rebuild its athletic stadium despite opposition from local people and Native American groups.

A Monday university news release stated “the project’s approval comes after extensive dialogue with community members, reflecting Northwestern’s commitment to understanding and addressing the concerns of Evanston residents.”

The decision followed a city council meeting of more than six hours.

The council “also approved the rezoning application that would allow six concerts a year and other community-oriented events at the new venue,” according to the news release.

“The new stadium is anticipated to be a catalyst for local economic growth, bringing new jobs, boosting local businesses and creating a vibrant cultural hub in Evanston,” it stated.

The Native American Guardian’s Association opposed the construction plan because “it amounts to cancellation of history due to potentially disturbing Native American land near the proposed construction site,” the group told The College Fix in an email.

“NAGA believes the presence of Native American ancestral burial and archeological sensitive sites are reason to prevent planned construction,” the group said. “We suggest Northwestern University consult with NAGA and any other Native organizations and tribes which have weighed in on this issue for future guidance.”

Northwestern’s published land acknowledgment states its campus “sits on the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa as well as the Menominee, Miami and Ho-Chunk nations.”

The university also stated its land acknowledgment would have lasting relevance.

“Land acknowledgments do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation,” a statement on the same website reads, quoting the Native Governance Center.

NAGA recently launched Change.org petitions to revert the Washington Commanders football team back to the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Guardians back to the Cleveland Indians. The group “is a 501c3 non-profit organization” that aims to “educate not eradicate” things related to Native Americans, according to its website.

The Fix also emailed Northwestern Director of Media Relations Hilary Hurd Anyaso, Director of Native American and Indigenous Affairs Jasmine Gurneau, and Vice President for Operations and Chief Operating Officer Luke Figora twice over the past week to ask about the pros and cons of rebuilding the field and how they will respond to the Native American groups who oppose the plan. No response has been received.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, another local, federally recognized Native American tribe, also opposed the plan.

“We have concerns that the area that is being proposed for development contains Native American Ancestral burials and archaeologically sensitive sites,” Matthew Bussler of the Pokagon Band wrote in an email to the Evanston city council in October. “The extent of excavation and ground disturbing activities are very concerning to the Tribe.”

The Fix emailed Bussler twice asking why the Pokagon Band opposes Ryan Field’s rebuilding, where the stadium should be located instead, and how Northwestern should respond to the group’s concerns. The Fix received no response.

The Pokagon Band also requested that “Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act [of 1966] be followed, and archaeological oversight occur before and during excavation if the site is deemed appropriate.”

Section 106 “requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of its actions on historic properties by identifying historic properties, assessing adverse effects and resolving those adverse effects,” according to the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

In 2020, the University of Notre Dame administration placed tapestries featuring symbols belonging to the Pokagon Band over 12 murals depicting the life of Christopher Columbus, The Fix reported at the time.

Some residents of Evanston also expressed strong opinions concerning Ryan Field’s rebuilding and rezoning.

“I am only a block and a half away from the stadium on Livingston [Street]. What is going to occur with my real estate value?” Charles Needham wrote to the council in an email. “Clearly, I’m asking you to vote no for the concerts.”

Northwestern, a private research university, announced in 2021 that it would be “redeveloping” Ryan Field with funds from a $480 million individual donor gift, according to a news release at the time.

The Patrick and Shirley Ryan Family donated the funds to “accelerate breakthroughs in biomedical, economics and business research and enable the University to redevelop Ryan Field and construct a best-in-class venue for the Northwestern community.”

Ryan Field’s new planned building will include an “intimate setting” that will reduce seating by more than 12,000, a canopy, and a design to “reduce noise and light pollution,” according to plans released by Northwestern.

Northwestern also has a “target for total subcontracted spending with local, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses for the Ryan Field project” of 35 percent, the plans state.

The stadium will not cost any taxpayer money, according to Northwestern’s “Rebuild Ryan Field” website.

MORE: Three University of Kansas professors now accused of faking Native American ancestry

IMAGE: ABC 7 Chicago YouTube screenshot

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Tate Miller is a student at Liberty University studying journalism. She is the founder Thatsasnap Productions, a photography business launched in 2018.