Community garden in Albany Park aims to protect environment, indigenous culture

The First Nations Garden currently includes a traditional garden for the community’s use. Part of the space — a prairie and soil restoration project and land specifically used for indigenous practices and traditions — remains in development.

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Every Sunday for the past month, Native American Chicagoans and Albany Park residents have gathered across the street from the 17th District police station to work on their community garden.

The First Nations Garden currently includes a traditional garden for the community’s use. Part of the space — a prairie and soil restoration project and land specifically used for indigenous practices and traditions — remains in development.  

Eventually the space that is yet to be developed will be used to conduct religious ceremonies and powwows, teach environmental education, grow traditional medicines and share stories under a massive 20-foot tipi.

The project is a joint initiative between the Chi-Nations Youth Council — a grassroots organization that advocates for indigenous youth through arts and education — and the American Indian Center, one of the oldest urban Native American cultural centers in the country.

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Supporters of the First Nations Garden gather around a fire under tipi on the site.

Provided photo by Anthony Tamez-Pochel

Anthony Tamez-Pochel, co-president of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, said the garden is a celebration of the 50,000 Native Americans who reside in the Chicago area and the vast indigenous heritage evident across the state.

“It’s been an opportunity to heal the trauma faced by Native Americans and Chicago’s physical environment,” said Tamez-Pochel, 19.

“The garden is a way for us to be connected to the land, our ancestors and other native people.”  

Plans for the garden were approved by the City Council in November and it officially opened April 13. But the entire project will be completed in five years because of significant damage to the soil from previous building debris and litter, Tamez-Pochel said.

Fawn Pochel, education coordinator of the American Indian Center, said the space is the largest native-managed garden in the area.

“It’s a garden but also a way we can celebrate our culture and preserve the environment despite widespread cultural appropriation,” she said.

In 2007, a Chicago Climate Task Force report suggested that the city reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent before 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The following year, the city adopted the Chicago Climate Action Plan to start preserving the city’s ecosystems in response to the task force’s findings.

The transformation of vacant lots into community gardens was one of the many proposed solutions.

“Protecting the environment is part of native culture and should be part of every culture,” Pochel said.

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