Indigenous Tribes of Chicago (2023)

The Chicago area is located on ancestral lands of indigenous tribes, such as the Council of the Three Fires--comprised of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations--as well as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, and Illinois Nations. These tribes had thriving trade networks in theIndigenous Tribes of Chicago (1)Great Lakes area prior to European contact. Post-European contact, the tribes maintained trade arrangements with both the French and British. Some roadways in Chicago reflect the trade roads followed by these tribes.

Reciprocal trade relationships between the tribes and Europeans helped maintain the tribal hold on the Illinois area around Lake Michigan throughout the 1700s. The arrival of Europeans on the continent had led to marked losses among the tribes of the Great Lakes area through the introduction of new diseases and the push of Eastern tribes westward. War and starvation further decimated tribal populations.

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The War of 1812 significantly affected the relationship between the Indigenous tribes in the Great Lakes area with the British and the United States. The Treaty of Ghent, which was written between the British and the United States following the war, felt like a betrayal to the tribes who had fought alongside the British against the United States government, and with economic shifts toward agriculture and industry, the Americans and British no longer felt the need to maintain economic and military relationships with the tribes of the Great Lakes area.

On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act proposing to relocate indigenous tribes west of the Mississippi River. This would mean the relocation of tens of thousands of indigenous people still living east of the river. The tribes in what is now Chicago and the Great Lakes area would feel the brunt of many land cessations and several relocation efforts over the coming years after this.

Relocation itself was a tragic undertaking for tribes. Those who survived the trip would face new hardships. The land allotted to tribes was often rejected by settlers. More often than not, the tribes would struggle for what limited supplies and resources were available. This led to poverty, starvation and severely difficult living circumstances that would continue to plague tribes for years to come.

Urban Natives

In 1893, Chicago put on theWorld’s Columbian Exposition. Word spread across the country that American Indians would be able to present themselves through exhibits. The endeavor was headed by one of America's first anthropologists, Harvard University professor Frederic Ward Putnam. As David R.M. Beck stated inUnfair Labor, “...the representations of American Indians at the fair fall into five categories: Indians as they wanted themselves to be known and understood, Indians as objects of science, Indians as assimilating into American society, Indians as romantic images and actors reflecting a bygone era, and Indians as savage and wild representations of America’s past” (2019, p. 5). The fair was claimed by Carl Smith to be the “most successful of all world’s fairs,” but in reality, it reinforced many stereotypical ideas about American Indians that would continue to color public perception in regards to the United States government's Indian policy.

(Video) Exploring Chicago’s Racial History: Native Americans

Entering the 1900s tribes in the Lake Michigan area had seen so much upheaval through removal, relocation and termination policies. Through the late 1800s to the early 1900s, children were being taken from their tribes and sent to boarding schools with the mission to assimilate them into white society. The policy was unwittingly supported across party lines. Both liberals and conservatives alike assumed that it was in the Native Americans' best interest. In reality, the children faced emotional and physical abuse in an attempt to “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

In 1910 the population of American Indians in Chicago was 188. An American Indian boarding school graduate, Dr. Carlos Montezuma, spent his life assisting this small, but the ever-growing population of American Indians with social services needs until his death in 1922. The following year an organization called the Indian Council Fire (originally called the Grand Council Fire) would pick up where Dr. Montezuma left off. This organization run by and for American Indians would expand their services to legal, housing, education and employment matters over the coming years. Services that proved essential with the growing population of American Indians in Chicago.

By 1952, the Truman administration enacted a new “voluntary relocation” effort coordinated by Dillon Myer, the commissioner of Indian Affairs. Dillon Myer modeled the American Indian relocation process after the same one used when he supervised the relocation of Japanese Americans throughout the Japanese American internment program during World War II.

Individuals from reservations were offered training and relocation into cities--Chicago being heavily favored. What the Native Americans did not realize was that “...the training that they had been given was sometimes on outdated machinery” (Beck, 2000, p. 244) and in fields that they would not learn skills they could take back to their reservations. The housing provided was rejected by most and considered slums in Chicago. Philleo Nash, who was commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1961-1966, stated that “Myer’s relocation program was essentially a one-way bus ticket from rural to urban poverty” (Hosmer, 2010, p. 31)

(Video) The Big Mistake That Caused The Native Tribes' Downfall: Chicago History Episode 5

Still, through all of these attempts at taking care of, what was often referred to as, ‘the Indian problem’ Chicago has maintained a thriving, diversely populated Indigenous population.“Chicago today has the third-largest urban Indian population in the United States, with more than 65,000 Native Americans in the greater metropolitan area and some 175 different tribes represented” (Hautzinger, 2018).

The needs of such a diverse population have evolved over time. Beyond the social services needs provided by the Indian Council Fire earlier in the century, fostering a sense of cultural identity was essential for many American Indians thrust into urban life. The American Indian Center (AIC) of Chicago opened in 1953 in response to the increasing needs. The AIC website states that “Through a combination of short-term relief services and long-term education and support programs, we seek to foster physical and spiritual health in the community, an active connection with traditional values and practices, stronger families with multigenerational bonds, and a rising generation of educated, articulate, and visionary youth” (2019). The AIC is a central location for American Indian cultural heritage and provides essential resources for American Indians living and thriving the Chicago area.

Further Information

To explore topics both present-day and historical of the Indigenous people of Chicago, please visit the following centers or check out the following websites:

Books and articles mentioned in this article:

(Video) Waking Up The Indigenous Peoples of Chicago Part 1

  • Beck, David. Unfair Labor? : American Indians and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 2019.
  • Beck, David R. M. “Native American Education in Chicago: Teach Them Truth.” Education and Urban Society, vol. 32, no. 2, 2000, pp. 237–255.
  • Hosmer, Brian C. Native Americans and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman, 2010.
  • Hautzinger, Daniel. “‘We're Still Here’: Chicago's Native American Community.” WTTW Chicago, 8 Nov. 2018,

Indigenous Tribes of Chicago (2)

Tara Kenjockety is part Seneca Nation and an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology in 2002 and her Master of Science in Library and Information Science in 2008 from Indiana University. After working in the public library system, Tara decided to focus on integrating information literacy into the curriculum for adult education students in South Bend, IN. While there she served on the Indiana adult education board and provided several professional development trainings throughout the state for adult education instructors. For the past three years, Tara has been working at the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame Tara serves on the campus Staff Advisory Council, the Hesburgh Library Diversity and Inclusion committee, and is currently forming an employee resource group on campus for Indigenous People. Tara also works with the Native American Initiatives (NAI) at Notre Dame and the Native American Students and their allies group.

The above information may be used by libraries, librarians, and other educators for nonprofit training and educational purposes. All such uses should include the notice "Content used by permission of the American Library Association, Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services". If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to email our office


Indigenous Tribes of Chicago? ›

Chicago is the traditional homeland of the Council of the Three Fires: The Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi Nations. Many other Tribes like the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox also called this area home.

What Native American tribes lived in Chicago? ›

Long before European settlers came to the Chicago region, it was home to the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Miami, and other Native American tribes and nations.

What were the 3 main Indian tribes in Illinois? ›

Tribes and Bands of Illinois

The most prominent tribes in Illinois were the Illinois, Miami, Winnebago, Fox and Sacs (Sauk), Kickapoo, and Pottawatomie tribes. The Illinois Native Americans were composed of five subdivisions including Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Tamaroas, Peorias, and Metchigamis.

Are there any native tribes in Illinois? ›

Unlike many states in the Midwest, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, Illinois doesn't have any federally recognized tribal lands.

Is there any Native American tribes left in Illinois? ›

There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Illinois today. The Indian tribes of Illinois are not extinct, but like many other native tribes, they were forced to move to Indian reservations in Oklahoma by the American government. You can find their present-day locations by clicking on the tribal links above.

Who colonized Chicago? ›

The first known non-indigenous permanent settler in Chicago was trader Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. Du Sable was of African descent, perhaps born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), and established the settlement in the 1780s. He is commonly known as the "Founder of Chicago".

Is Chicago Native land? ›

The Museum recognizes that the region we now call Chicago was the traditional homelands of many Indigenous nations, and remains home to diverse Native people today. The land we walk was and remains Native land.

When did the last Indians leave Illinois? ›

The Black Hawk War of 1832 removed the last remaining group of Native Americans from Illinois.

Does the Sauk tribe still exist? ›

Today they have three federally recognized tribes, together with the Meskwaki (Fox), located in Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas.

What tribe is in Illinois today? ›

Today, the living descendants of the Illinois Indians are represented by the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, which was incorporated as an independent tribe in 1940. The Peoria Tribe maintains its headquarters in Miami, Oklahoma, and currently has 2,639 members living throughout the United States.

Where did the Shawnee tribe live in Illinois? ›

The Shawnee tribe had a long history in Southern Illinois. The Shawnee lived in “Shawnee towns,” which could be found anywhere from Northern Ohio to the convergence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at the southern tip of Illinois.

Which state has the most native tribes? ›

Though Alaska is home to nearly half of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes, the Last Frontier is home to just one reservation. Nearly one in six Alaskans is Native American, the highest proportion of any U.S. state.

What Native American tribes lived in Cook County Illinois? ›

Land Acknowledgement Statement

The Forest Preserves of Cook County acknowledges that we are on the lands of the Council of Three Fires—the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi—as well as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sauk and Meskwaki peoples.

What is the indigenous name for Chicago? ›

The most-accepted Chicago meaning is a word that comes from the Algonquin language: “shikaakwa,” meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.” According to early explorers, the lakes and streams around Chicago were full of wild onions, leeks, and ramps.

Why did Native Americans leave Chicago? ›

And then Native Americans were almost entirely removed from the region through bloody conflicts and unfair treaties that ceded their land to Europeans. As a result of the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, most remaining Native Americans were forced out of the area around Chicago.

What happened to the Illinois Indians? ›

The Illinois people eventually declined because of losses to infectious disease and war, mostly brought through the arrival of French colonists. Eventually, they reorganized under the name of the Confederated Peoria.

Who inhabited Chicago first? ›

Chicago's first permanent non-indigenous resident was a trader named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a free black man from Haiti whose father was a French sailor and whose mother as an African slave, he came here in the 1770s via the Mississippi River from New Orleans with his Native American wife, and their home stood ...

What was Chicago before it was Chicago? ›

The name "Chicago" is derived from a French rendering of the Native American word shikaakwa, known to botanists as Allium tricoccum, from the Miami-Illinois language. The first known reference to the site of the current city of Chicago as "Checagou" was by Robert de LaSalle around 1679 in a memoir.

What ethnic group settled Chicago? ›

Germans flooded into Chicago for over a century — from the mid-19th century through World War II. Lincoln Square, where Germans settled in droves, still maintains a strong German identity. Swedish immigrants settled into the Andersonville neighborhood at the end of the 19th century.

What percentage of Chicago is Native American? ›

White alone, percent 45.3%
Black or African American alone, percent(a) 29.2%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone, percent(a) 0.5%
Asian alone, percent(a) 6.8%
54 more rows

Is Ojibwe the same as Chippewa? ›

The Ojibwe call themselves "Anishinaabeg," which means the "True People" or the "Original People." Other Indians and Europeans called them "Ojibwe" or "Chippewa," which meant "puckered up," probably because the Ojibwe traditionally wore moccasins with a puckered seam across the top.

What type of land did Chicago have? ›

Chicago lies mainly on a relatively flat glacial plain—on what was once the bottom of Lake Chicago (the precursor of Lake Michigan)—averaging between 579 and 600 feet (176 and 183 metres) above sea level.

Did the Trail of Tears go through Illinois? ›

The main (northern) land route of the Trail of Tears crosses southern Illinois in an east-west direction between Golconda, Illinois (on the Ohio River) and the vicinity of Cape Girardeau, Missouri (on the Mississippi River).

Where are the Potawatomi now? ›

Today, the Forest County Potawatomi Community is thriving with an enrolled membership of about 1,400. Nearly half of the Tribe lives on the reservation, comprised of four communities in the southern section of Forest County, Wisconsin.

What large Native American city was in Illinois? ›

Cahokia was a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city for its time. Yet its history is virtually unknown by most Americans and present-day Illinoisans.

What was the most vicious tribe in America? ›

The Comanches, known as the "Lords of the Plains", were regarded as perhaps the most dangerous Indians Tribes in the frontier era. One of the most compelling stories of the Wild West is the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah's mother, who was kidnapped at age 9 by Comanches and assimilated into the tribe.

Are Apaches Native American? ›

The Apache (/əˈpætʃi/) are a group of culturally related Native American tribes in the Southwestern United States, which include the Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Lipan, Mescalero, Mimbreño, Ndendahe (Bedonkohe or Mogollon and Nednhi or Carrizaleño and Janero), Salinero, Plains (Kataka or Semat or "Kiowa-Apache") and Western ...

Where are the Fox tribe now? ›

The Sac and Fox Nation is located in central Oklahoma, between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The Nation has a total of 3,794 tribal members, 2,557 of whom live in Oklahoma. The Tribal area tracked by the U.S. Census has a population of approximately 59,000.

What is the most remote tribe today? ›

The Sentinelese are the most isolated tribe in the world, and have captured the imagination of millions. They live on their own small forested island called North Sentinel, which is approximately the size of Manhattan. They continue to resist all contact with outsiders, attacking anyone who comes near.

What was the first tribe in Illinois? ›

Native Americans:Historic:The Illinois. At the dawn of the historic era, when European explorers first entered the land we now call the State of Illinois, they encountered a people who became known to the world as the Illinois or Illiniwek Indians.

What tribe is Shawnee today? ›

Today, there are three federally-recognized tribes of the Shawnee People: the Absentee-Shawnee, the (Loyal) Shawnee, and the Eastern Shawnee. In the late 1700's, few Shawnee groups migrated westward into Missouri and Arkansas to avoid colonial encroachment.

Where do Indians live in Chicago? ›

Within the metropolitan area, the towns of South Barrington, Schaumburg, Oak Brook, Buffalo Grove, Naperville, and Morton Grove have the six highest concentrations of South Asian Americans. Chicago, Naperville, Lincolnwood, Aurora, Skokie, and Hoffman Estates have the highest absolute numbers of South Asian Americans.

Where is the Native American lost in Chicago? ›

The Native American lost in Chicago... Dreamin'... by Ella & Pitr at 527 S Wells St, Chicago, IL, Chicago | Wescover Street Murals.

Does Chicago have a little India? ›

Little India has been a Chicago staple since the 1970s and is known by locals as a multiethnic corridor. Located in the West Ridge neighborhood, Devon Avenue is bustling with Indian and Pakistani culture.

What cities in Chicago are Native American? ›

Native people live throughout the Chicago area with the highest concentrations in Edgewater, Uptown, Rogers Park, and Ravenswood on the city's North Side.

Why are there so many Indians in Naperville? ›

Jobs in high-tech industries, which recruit in countries such as India and Pakistan, account for many of the more than 8,200 new Asian residents in Naperville over the past 10 years, the highest raw growth of any suburb.

What did the natives call Chicago? ›

The most-accepted Chicago meaning is a word that comes from the Algonquin language: “shikaakwa,” meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.” According to early explorers, the lakes and streams around Chicago were full of wild onions, leeks, and ramps.

Why are there no Indian reservations in Illinois? ›

The Black Hawk War of 1832 removed the last remaining group of Native Americans from Illinois. These members of the Sac and Fox tribes moved west to reservation land in Iowa. By the middle of the nineteenth century many had moved again, southward into Kansas and Oklahoma.

What was the largest Native American city in US? ›

Near modern-day St. Louis, Missouri, you can find towering mounds of earth that were once the product of a vast North American culture. Cahokia was the largest city built by this Native American civilization.

Which Native American tribe disappeared without a trace? ›

For 1,000 years, long before Columbus, the Anasazi Indians were lords of what's now the American Southwest. Their civilization was as complex and sophisticated as that of the Mayans. Then, apparently without warning, the Anasazi all but disappeared.

What Native American city was abandoned? ›

The population of Cahokia began to decline during the 13th century, and the site was abandoned by around 1350.


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