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Welcome Event Unites the Health Sciences Community to Celebrate New Odehmenan Health Equity Center

UIC and community leaders and stakeholders standing together and cutting a large blue ribbon front of a colorful mural

A Sense of Community and Fun for the Health Sciences at UIC Heading link

people walking through the greenery of the garden

On September 13, 2023, under sunny skies and with fall crispness in the air, faculty, students, administration and staff from across UIC’s academic health enterprise attended a celebration to kick off the new academic year, celebrate our shared mission of belonging and health equity, and to inaugurate UIC’s new Odehmenan Health Equity Center, or Odeh Center.

The event took place in the beautiful green space of the Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden, with nearly 300 people flowing through the garden and partaking from a variety of food and refreshments selected to represent communities adjacent to the west side of campus: Pilsen Tamales, Chinatown Bao, Greektown Salads, Chicago Popcorn, Little Italy Italian Beefs, Agua de Sandía and Mycha Boba Tea. Throughout the festivities there was a steady pulse of upbeat and multilingual music provided by a live DJ.

Many UIC organizations participated in the event to raise awareness of their programming and services, including the seven UIC Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social change; Student Affairs; the College of Pharmacy Pharmacognosy Institute; the Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion, the Center for the Advancement of InterProfessional Practice, Education and Research; the Urban Health Program; and the Women’s Leadership and Resource Center. Cook County Forest Preserve was also on hand to engage with our health sciences community with opportunities for volunteering and trail preservation.

Centering the Native American Community Heading link

Ariana Black standing behind a podium and speaking into a microphone

Adriana Black, MPH, MAT, the founding director of the Odeh Center, said that it was essential that the center and the event should honor the first people of the Chicago area whose ancestral land the university now occupies. She explained that while there are seven Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change at UIC, none explicitly acknowledge native and indigenous students and communities. “Although this will serve as a health equity center that brings in programming from the seven cultural centers, as well as the seven health sciences colleges and schools, it was imperative to me that we moved past acknowledgements in words and move to action. We partnered with Native community leaders, health advocates and academics to establish the name of the Odeh Center, conceptualize the art in the space and plan the launch,” she said. “Ensuring that we were this intentional, transparent and explicit in our launch process was fundamental. We want this event to serve as the foundation of all what the Odeh Center will continue to strive for: to center people and communities who have been minoritized and marginalized, foster belonging in our pursuit of health equity, and seek to flourish in the work that we do together.”

The first word in the Center’s name, Odehmenan — pronounced: Odeh-me-nan: (odéh (oh-debt) me (muh) nan (nan) — is a Potawatomi word that translates to, “this heart of ours.” The Potawatomi people are one of the original peoples of the Chicagoland area and one of the Three Fires Confederacy Nations, who know this area as their ancestral home. The name encompasses the symbolism of the heart as a powerful and essential organ in the body, as well as of the Odeh Center to provide the “heart space” necessary to build belonging and advocacy at UIC.

At the event, attendees were served strawberries, which are understood by the Three Fires Confederacy, including the Potawatomi, to be the leaders of the berries, since they are the first to bear fruit. Strawberries also have the shape of a heart and hold great importance in native medicine for both women’s health and heart health.

Indigenous cuisine was served at the event, prepared by Jessica Pamonicutt, executive chef & owner of Ketapanen Kitchen, which is Chicago’s first and only Native American pop-up kitchen and catering company. Event attendees enjoyed her women’s medicine salad, blueberry bison tamales and iced cedar tea with honey.

Dedicating the New Odeh Center Heading link

Donald Perrot and Zoë Harris standing together behind a podium

At the core of the event was a dedication program and ribbon cutting to launch the Odehmenan Health Equity Center. UIC leadership who were key in bringing the center to fruition delivered remarks to the gathered crowd, with Odeh Center director Adriana Black leading the program with a very intentional land acknowledgment. Then there were remarks from Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. Robert Barish and Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Engagement Dr. Amalia Pallares, who have long been collaborating to establish the first and only such center on the west side of campus. Dean of Libraries Dr. Rhea Ballard-Thrower, who has generously provided space for the center in the Library of the Health Sciences, also gave remarks about her motivation in continuing to challenge the status quo.

Donald Perrot, a Potawatomi language expert who was instrumental in the naming of the center and its symbolic meaning, addressed the crowd in his native Potawatomi language, followed by remarks in English. Similarly, Zoë Harris, a UIC PhD student and president of the Indigenous Graduate Student Association, and a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, prioritized remarks in the Wampanoag language.

The dedication program culminated in the ceremonial planting of a cedar tree in the garden. Among the Four Sacred Medicines of Native American healing practice, Cedar (Gizhki) is known as the restorer and purifier, here symbolizing healing and growth for this new beginning with the launch of the Odeh Center. The garden now has plantings of all four Native sacred plants: cedar, sage, tobacco and sweet grass.

The program was followed by a formal ribbon cutting in the New Odeh Center, and the first public viewing of the striking mural “Odehmenan” that adorns the primary wall of the center. Capping off the event was a question-and-answer session with the Potawatomi language expert, Donald Perrot, and the Pilsen-born artist who created the mural, Miguel A. Del Real.

Dr. Barish standing behind a podium and speaking into a microphone

Dr. Robert Barish, UIC vice chancellor for health affairs, emphasized the alignment between the Odeh Center and UI Health’s core mission of advancing health equity, “We’ve been truly excited to conceptualize and launch this new health equity center, and we see it as an important extension of our mission,” he said. “We want UIC and UI Health to be places where all people feel welcome and supported, places where they can flourish not only academically and professionally, but also as individuals, and go on to deliver high quality and compassionate health care to the communities who most need it.”

Highlights, Photos & Video from the Event