Before Illinois became a state, several tribes called it home. However, the federal government removed them from the area and put them on reservations in other states. Today there are no federally recognized tribes in Illinois.
Heather Miller, Wyandotte Nation, is the executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago. She tells us how American Indians and Alaska Natives living in Chicago are getting help during this pandemic.
Here are a few of her statements:
"We were constantly struggling to make sure that the city knows that we still live here."
"We have the sixth largest urban Indian population in the country. We actually have the largest in the Midwest. So with those statistics, you would think that our government officials would want to take a bigger relationship piece of working with our tribes and with our Indian people here in the state, but they really don't."
"We constantly are advocating and working with government officials."
"Being here in Chicago is a really unique situation for us as Native people. We really don't have that tribal support, so we rely quite frequently on our relationships with our tribal nations."
"We're great partners with the Ho-Chunk Nation. We are wonderful partners with our friends at the Pottawatomie Nations, many of the different bands join and support our work. We work really closely with several bands of the Ojibwe tribes that are also located in the area."
"We try to make sure that we maintain really positive relationships with all the tribes that we tend to serve here in the city. Just here at the Indian center, we serve about one hundred different tribal nations. So that means we really have to know a wide variety of traditions and stories and cultural pieces just so that way we can relate to all of our very beautiful and widely diverse membership."
"We're all working together to make sure that we take care of all of our Indian folks here in the city."
"We have a group called the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative here in Chicago. So that is an advocacy advocacy group with all 17 of our Native serving organizations here in the city. And so we come together and we compare research that is happening. We compare information that the city is putting out because we all tend to get different pieces based on the areas that we work in."
"One of the things that we've been seeing is that the state itself is doing a really good job of making sure that they recognize Indian people in their statistics. So when they put out information around the impact of COVID-19 on our different communities, we see ourselves represented in those numbers. But when we look at what the city is doing, the city itself is actually 'othering' us."
"We're not being represented in any category other than other. And so we're not being visible on these statistics. "
"Being 'othered' in your statistics during this massive pandemic is actually causing us more harm than they think. And so we're trying to work really closely with our government, with our local city officials right now to change those statistics to make sure that our Native population is seen and heard during this really interesting time right now in our city."
"Prior to the pandemic, and even still now, our center focused on working with victims of trafficking."
"We have a major trafficking problem here in Chicago. And what we found with our work with the court systems and with the legal system, with even police out on the streets, is that they're not asking the right questions even when they arrest individuals. So our community, prior to this was even being 'othered,' through these different systems in place. So things that should be taken into consideration, that there are native people still living here."
"Those systems were failing us prior to the pandemic. So it really has given us a larger sense of just how much the city tends to ignore us and just leave us out on all of these issues. So despite the fact that our communities are struggling economically, we're seeing decreased resources going to our communities. We're also now fighting with our local government officials just to make sure that we're still heard and that we're still recognized."
"Without having the federally recognized tribes here in the state, that then leaves our city officials and even regular community members without a basic understanding of tribal history and tribal sovereignty."
"They don't have the background, they don't have the education, they don't have the knowledge or the information needed to make choices and to make decisions that truly account for our native people here in Chicago ... It's mind-numbingly frustrating."
"It feels so hypocritical to, because when we look at the history of this land and specifically the great lakes region, this was such a popular place for so many tribes. This has always been a city as we like to say, because so many of our tribal nations were coming here to trade and to build relationships with one another."
"And so when we leave out that and when we don't talk about that connection to this particular place, it really feels like we're doing a disservice to the land in general."
"When the pandemic hit it, it really put us in a little bit of a crisis for a minute because the major point of our work is to bring our community together face to face. So we thought, okay, well how do we do that given the fact that we can't, we've got to do this virtually."
"We do a lot of land based education because that can connect the fact that we're from a hundred different tribes and we all have respect for our plant and animal relatives."
"In the last couple of weeks we've put together seed starter kits so our community can plant together, they can grow their plants."
"We're providing folks with vegetables and herbs that they can easily grow in apartments that don't require too much work, but that will provide a nice activity and we'll be able to offer some new things for the food that they have to cook."
"We've seen a lot of our native artists make their art available for free. So we put together a coloring book that we were able to send out to 50 families with colored pencils so that way their kids would have some activities to connect them and to learn a little bit more about some of our native artists."
"We have been doing some online talking circles with our community."
"One of the things that was an immediate need for many of our families was food. So we started doing a food distribution in partnership with all of our Native serving organizations here in the city."
"We also slip in a bag of tobacco, slip in some sage, and a little sweet grass."
"We're loud and proud city Indians and we love that designation."
"We're able to partner with all the urban Indian centers across the country on our get out the vote efforts and our census works."
"We've been able to sneak some census information into those food boxes that we're distributing out to the community."
"After this week we're actually going to do an online zoom, fill out your census workshops. So for folks that have questions or are concerned about what you've asked of them, we'll be there to provide that explanation and to offer some support and resources for folks. "
"Chicago is a really important place when it comes to our urban native history and thinking about what it looks like to support, uh, urban Indians. And so one of the things that I think it's important for us to remember is that even though we're not necessarily on our traditional homelands, this is still Indian land."
Also on the daily newscast, Washington Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye reports updated COVID-19 numbers in Indian Country.
The anchor and executive producer of the program is Patty Talahongva.