story of American Indians in Illinois in the 19th century was
one of forced removal out of the state (in most cases prior
to white settlement, contrary to popular dime novel, Wild West
Show, and Hollywood views of settlers fighting Indians, Indians
burning cabins, etc.). This was enabled by a series of land
cessions in treaties between the U.S. government and sovereign
nations that promised Native people’s land and annuities
in compensation, and protection from further encroachment by
white settlers (You
might want to review the Online Essay: Assembling Illinois
to refresh your memory or learn more about that topic).
But if the 19th century was all about movement of Native Americans
out of the state, the 20th century was characterized by movement
of Native people into Illinois. Take a look at this table:
U.S. Census Population Figures:
American Indians in Illinois - 1860-2000
1980: 16, 283
2000: 31,006 [73,161]
As you can see, Illinois never COMPLETELY removed all Native
American people from the state…although the number of
Native residents was extremely low during much of the 19th
do we know about those Native people who remained in Illinois
AFTER the “complete” removal in the 1830s?
What happened to those Native groups who left?
do we account for the massive growth of Illinois’s
Native American population during the last half of the 20th century?
In answering these questions, we are led to consider how American
Indian people have retained their cultural identities in the
face of such radical dislocation and change (removal, relocation,
termination, increased rates of marriage between members of different
tribes, increased rates of marriage to non-Indians, etc.). Specifically,
it raises the issue of American Indian identity today: Who is
an Indian? Who gets to decide?