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Increasing Connections to Nature: Trickster Cultural Center and the Forest Preserves of Cook County

Forest Preserves staff attend a training about Native American culture at Trickster Cultural Center.
Forest Preserves staff attend a training about Native American culture at Trickster Cultural Center.

From time immemorial, Native Americans have had a rich relationship to the land in Cook County. As a land management agency that has played a role in shaping local Native American history by acquiring the land that represents the preserves, we believe it is our responsibility to engage Native American communities—celebrating their past, present and future. 

Part of that work is partnering with organizations that represent and serve the Native American population in Cook County. The latest step is work that began last year with Trickster Cultural Center in Schaumburg to develop new ways to engage individuals who are served by the nonprofit Native American and community arts center. 

Trickster Cultural Center was established to create a unique contemporary view of Native arts, cultural education and awareness, but programming director Gina Roxas says the organization center does much more, 

“Trickster is not just a Native American organization. We are a cultural center for all to learn each other’s stories,” she explains. “We do this through our Native American lens in a Native American way.”  

During an initial visit between the Forest Preserves and Trickster, their staff shared some of their community needs, including a place to host nature camps where families and youth can explore and connect with nature. Together, we identified Rolling Knolls in northwest Cook County as an ideal location to host the camps. 

“Personally, for me being Potawatomi, I feel very thankful to walk on land such as Rolling Knolls, knowing that my ancestors have walked this land before. I am honored to be able to build a deep connection with this land. It is wonderful to be able to provide this space and share our relationship and perspectives to land with all community members,” Roxas says. 

In addition to increased programming at Rolling Knolls, Trickster Cultural Center is working with the Forest Preserves’ Resource Management Department to develop a land management and ecological stewardship plan for the site that will incorporate input and participation from the Native community.  

Trickster is bringing cultural programs to Trailside Museum of Natural History, too. Later this month, Trickster will open a photography exhibit at the nature center, and beginning early next year will teach public programs as part of the show.  

This partnership aligns with the Forest Preserves’ racial equity, diversity and inclusion goals, including recommendations in the newest REDI position paper, “Amplifying Diversity and Inclusion in the Forest Preserves of Cook County,” which acknowledges the Forest Preserves’ special obligation to Native Americans. The paper identifies several strategies to further build and strengthen our relationship with Native American communities.