"We're Still Here": Chicago's Native American Community (2023)

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Traces are all around, but it is often obscured or even forgotten that Chicago is built on land that was home to various Native American tribes for hundreds of years. Local members of the Miami tribe demonstrated the value of the swampy area to Europeans when they showed the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet a portage between the Chicago River and Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers. The city’s name comes from the Algonquian people, who called the river on which it sits “Checagou” after the stinky wild leeks that grew along its shore. One of the first permanent settlers of the area was a Potawatomi woman named Kittahawa, who ensured the trading success of her husband, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, by acting as a liaison and translator to her fellow Native Americans. Métis, the mixed-race children of Native American and European parents, helped the spot flourish as a hub of interactions between European traders and Native American trappers. Native American trails became integral roads for settlers as the city grew: Ridge Avenue, Ogden Avenue, Vincennes Avenue, parts of Grand Avenue.

(Learn more about the history of Native Americans in Chicago and the origins of place names and street paths in this"Ask Geoffrey" segmentfromChicago Tonight.)

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.

Photo: American Indian Center

“For time immemorial, tribes from across the country congregated here in the Chicago area; it was a central trade hub,” says Heather Miller, the executive director of theAmerican Indian Centerin Chicago and a member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. “Oftentimes we forget about that important history, and it’s so often overlooked from the history of Chicago.”

After the removal of Native Americans from the region, Chicago did not have a significant Native presence for over a hundred years. But in the 1950s, the federal government enacted a new policy to address what it saw as the Indian problem – one in a long line of disastrous and discriminatory policies that have removed Native Americans from their land, led to high rates of poverty, and otherwise disadvantaged and disenfranchised them. The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 sought to disperse Native Americans into cities from their reservations by ending federal recognition of many tribes and discontinuing federal funding for many of the reservations’ services, such as schools and hospitals. While the government paid to relocate Native Americans and provided some vocational training, many Native Americans struggled to find work and adapt to an urban lifestyle upon arriving in cities. And that’s why the American Indian Center was founded: to provide both social services and a gathering place for people faced with a drastic and overwhelming life change.

Photo: Warren Perlstein, courtesy American Indian Center

“With relocation, Native folks on reservations were given a bus ticket and told, ‘Here are a list of cities you can go to – they’ll have a lot of opportunities for you,’ “ Miller explains. “Natives start arriving in these cities and find that there isn’t this breadth of opportunity that was promised them. They start coming to brand-new places that they have no experience with. They don’t necessarily speak English very well, they’ve never seen these big buildings before, some don’t even know how electricity works.

“Chicago was one of those relocation cities, so quite a few Native folks from all across the country ended up here. Our older folks came together and said, ‘We need our own place, we need a gathering spot for connecting Natives who are coming to the city. We can provide them with resources, with education, and just be a place where everyone can come and hang out. So the Indian Center was born.”

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. The American Indian Center, founded in 1953, is the oldest urban Indian center in the country. For decades, it was located in a former Masonic lodge on Wilson Avenue in Uptown, near where many Native Americans settled when they first came to Chicago. (“Uptown had the nickname ‘Hillbilly Heaven and Redskin Row,’ because this particular area of it was populated by poor white people and Indians,” Miller says.) Last year the AIC sold that building and moved to a new location in Albany Park, close to the intersection of Kimball and Lawrence Avenues.

The previous location of the American Indian Center, on Wilson Avenue

While the AIC originally offered social services in addition to cultural and educational programming, in recent years it has scaled back that aspect of its mission, Miller says. “There have now been a couple generations of Native folk here in Chicago. They’ve established themselves and they’ve stepped away from needing a lot of that social service aspect. But we still need a place to gather and to practice our traditions and our heritage.”

Because the AIC supports so many different tribes, celebrating all those traditions can be a bit tricky – but also rewarding. “Imagine having a family of 175 different people, and what that dining room table at Thanksgiving is like,” Miller says, laughing. “Nobody’s going to want to eat the same turkey, there are going to be 30 different potato dishes, everyone will have different opinions.” So the AIC focuses its educational efforts, such as an after-school program and land-based education involving community gardens, on common themes instead of specific tribal traditions.

“Something that is very true to many of our communities is how we take care of and interact with the land and with plants and animals,” Miller explains. “We have plants – like sweetgrass, sage, tobacco, and cedar – that pretty much all of us use for ceremonies, for medicine, and for different ways of being Native.” The AIC has small garden plots in which they grow some of those plants, and they recently acquired a city lot at Pulaski Road and Wilson Avenue to provide more opportunities for community gardening and land-based education.

Photo: American Indian Center

The AIC also organizes events that allow tribes to share their distinct traditions with each other, such as a recent social dance. “It was so cool, because we got to share these pieces of our own heritage and history and learn more about what makes each one of us unique,” Miller says. There is also an annual powwow, a gathering that includes dances and competitions.

Nor has the AIC completely dropped its social service aspect. It provides support and resources to Native people who have been trafficked with itsProject Beacon, through partnership with homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, drug counselling centers, and places that provide employment opportunities, among other organizations.

This year the AIC received funding from theNational Urban Indian Family Coalitionfor get-out-the-vote efforts in an election that sawallegations of discriminationagainst Native Americans in North Dakota by means of voting laws but also the election of the country’sfirst two female Native American congresswomen. The AIC also served as a polling place and hosted a party to watch the returns from Illinois and for the record number of Native candidates across the country.

Members of several Native American tribes attended a land acknowledgement ceremony at the Field Museum on Oct. 26, 2018. Photo: The Field Museum

Two ongoing projects expand the AIC’s educational outreach to non-Native peoples. The Field Museum recently announced that it has partnered with the AIC to renovate the Museum’s Native North American Hall in order to better represent the Native peoples of the region. (Watch Miller discuss the renovationonChicago Tonightwith the Field Museum’s Anthropology Curator, Alaka Wali.) The Museum also held a land acknowledgment ceremony to recognize that it stands on the traditional homeland of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi tribes.

Farther north, for theNorthwest Portage Walking Museum, which will cover an eleven-mile stretch of Irving Park Road between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River, the AIC has partnered with the Portage Park Neighborhood Association and the Chicago Public Art Group. “We’re trying to figure out ways to connect all the communities that have called that area home over the centuries, in a way that presents their history in a positive public art space,” Miller says.

A rendering of a proposed Serpent Mound for Schiller Woods on the Des Plaines River as part of the Northwest Portage Walking Museum. Image: American Indian Center

The two ends of the Walking Museum, at Horner Park and Schiller Woods, will be marked by two contemporary mounds designed by the Native artist Santiago x and built with the help of volunteers. “The tribes that called this area home were mound builders,” Miller explains. “They used them as wayfinding tools or to honor spirits and family members. We wanted to bring that part of their history back and celebrate it.” The hope is to eventually partner with other communities between the two sites to create a Walking Museum trail that connects all the communities in the area.

“The mounds will provide education to the greater community and remind folks that we’re still here; the Native community hasn’t gone away,” Miller says. “We’re still very much connected to this land and to our history, and you can come to the AIC to learn more about it. Oftentimes, it’s easy to forget that Native people have a presence here in Chicago, but we’re living, we’re thriving, and we do really awesome stuff. We don’t keep it to ourselves, and we love having people come and participate with us and learn more about us when we have events or opportunities to share our culture.”


What is the Native American population today multiple choice question? ›

Population, Demographics

The 2020 U.S. Census listed the American Indian and Alaska Native population as 3.7 million people or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. population.

What is the summary of we shall remain America through Native eyes? ›

At the heart of the project is a five-part television series that shows how Native peoples valiantly resisted expulsion from their lands and fought the extinction of their culture — from the Wampanoags of New England in the 1600s who used their alliance with the English to weaken rival tribes, to the bold new leaders ...

What Native Americans were indigenous to 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 happened to Native Americans in Chicago? ›

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.

What 3 states have the highest Native American population today? ›

Today, there are over five million Native Americans in the United States, 78% of whom live outside reservations. The states with the highest percentage of Native Americans in the U.S. are Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana, and North Dakota.

What is 1 largest Native American tribe today? ›

The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian reservation in the United States, spanning roughly 16 million acres, or about 25,000 square miles—approximately the size of the state of West Virginia. Only one indigenous tribe is bigger than Navajo Nation.

Why don't natives look you in the eye? ›

In many Native American cultures, the eyes are believed to be the window to the soul. If you look someone directly in the eye, you could steal their soul. Or they could steal yours. In order to avoid inadvertent soul loss/theft, eye contact may be avoided.

What is the main idea of I am a native of North America? ›

In “I Am a Native of North America,” Chief Dan George expresses his views of community, which are based on his experiences growing up in the traditional ways of his Native American culture. He contrasts his beliefs as a Native American with those of white society.

What did Native Americans believe about eye contact? ›

EYE CONTACT: Sustained direct eye contact is a form of disrespect to many Native Americans. COMMUNICATION: Native Americans are very comfortable with silence. Silence does not indicate a lack of understanding or disinterest.

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 Native Americans leave Chicago? ›

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.

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.

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

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 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.

How many Native Americans are left in 2023? ›

#StateNative American Population
47 more rows

What percentage do you have to be to be considered Native American? ›

The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses a blood quantum definition—generally one-fourth Native American blood—and/or tribal membership to recognize an individual as Native American. However, each tribe has its own set of requirements—generally including a blood quantum—for membership (enrollment) of individuals.

How many Native Americans are left? ›

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current total population of Native Americans in the United States is 6.79 million, which is about 2.09% of the entire population. There are about 574 federally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S.

Are Mexicans descendants of Native Americans? ›

Most Mexicans who identify as Mestizo, have very large amounts of Indigenous ancestry. Despite this they are culturally assimilated into mestizaje and therefore do not identify culturally or politically Indigenous peoples of Mexico.

Which Indian tribe is the richest? ›

Today, the Shakopee Mdewakanton are believed to be the richest tribe in American history as measured by individual personal wealth: Each adult, according to court records and confirmed by one tribal member, receives a monthly payment of around $84,000, or $1.08 million a year.

What celebrities are Native American? ›

November Is Native American History Month! Part 2: Native American Celebrities
  • Jason Momoa. The star of Aquaman identifies mostly with his Polynesian roots, as he was born in Hawaii and spent plenty of time there. ...
  • Anthony Kiedis. ...
  • Jimi Hendrix. ...
  • Billy Bob Thornton. ...
  • Chuck Norris. ...
  • Rosario Dawson. ...
  • Jim Thorpe. ...
  • Elvis Presley.
Nov 19, 2020

What color are most Native American eyes? ›

In general, ancient and contemporary Native Americans were predicted to have intermediate/brown eyes, black hair, and intermediate/darker skin pigmentation.

Can Native Americans have green eyes? ›

All races, including Caucasian, African, Asian, Pacific Islanders, Arabic, Hispanic and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas can have green eyes.

Why do Native Americans wear mirrors? ›

For Native Americans, mirrors were symbols of wealth and prestige. They were commonly mounted in dance batons or other objects of ceremonial regalia, since it was their light-reflective property, not their ability to reflect images, that was considered important.”

What do Native Americans believe about? ›

American Indian culture emphasizes harmony with nature, endurance of suffering, respect and non- interference toward others, a strong belief that man is inherently good and should be respected for his decisions. Such values make individuals and families in difficulty very reluctant to seek help.

Why did the US want the Native American? ›

These Indian nations, in the view of the settlers and many other white Americans, were standing in the way of progress. Eager for land to raise cotton, the settlers pressured the federal government to acquire Indian territory.

What is Native American known for? ›

American Indians are generally known for having the spirit of warriors, being good hunters, and having great respect for nature. Nevertheless, their customs and languages are very different among the various tribes.

Do Native American believe in God? ›

In general, the Native American Church believes in one supreme God, the Great Spirit. Ceremonies are generally held in a tipi and require a priest, pastor, or elder to conduct the service. The conductor is referred to as the Roadman.

Can Native Americans have blue eyes? ›

A: No. There is no tribe of Indians that is predominantly blue-eyed. In fact, blue eyes, like blond hair, is genetically recessive, so if a full-blood Indian and a blue-eyed Caucasian person had a baby, it would be genetically impossible for that baby to have blue eyes.

Did Native Americans have good eyesight? ›

Native America was comprised of persons required to have flexible vision in order to hunt and gather. But that was within a context of short term, so the eyes were pliable and flexible, and could immediately focus at distances as well as close proximity. Another cause for poor eyesight is the typical American plate.

What do you call a Chicago native? ›

[ shi-kah-goh-uhn, -kaw- ] SHOW IPA. / ʃɪˈkɑ goʊ ən, -ˈkɔ- / PHONETIC RESPELLING. noun. a native or inhabitant of Chicago, Ill.

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.

What type of land is Chicago? ›

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.

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 is the oldest Native American community? ›

Acoma Pueblo is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Access to the pueblo is difficult as the faces of the mesa are sheer. Before modern times access was gained only by means of a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.

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.

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.

Are there a lot of Indian people in Chicago? ›

Chicago, and its surrounding suburbs, are home to the second-largest Indian American population of any metropolitan area in the country, with over 171,191 Indians living in Chicagoland.

Which US city has the largest Indian population? ›

New York City With over 650,000 Indo Americans, the New York City Metropolitan Area contains the largest metropolitan Asian Indian population in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Manhattan. ...
  • Queens.

What is the population of Native American Indian? ›

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current total population of Native Americans in the United States is 6.79 million, which is about 2.09% of the entire population. There are about 574 federally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S. Fifteen states have Native American populations of over 100,000.

What is the current Native American population in the United States? ›

In 2021, there were 9.7 million AI/AN people (alone or in combination), comprising 2.9% of the total U.S. population of 329.5 million. This is an increase of 86.5% from the last Census.

What is the percentage of Native Americans today? ›

The nation is home to around 8.75 million people who identify at least partially as American Indian or Alaska Native, making up around 2.6% of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2021 American Community Survey.

What is the native population in what is now the United States? ›

There are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives making up approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Who were the first Native Americans? ›

In the 1970s, college students in archaeology such as myself learned that the first human beings to arrive in North America had come over a land bridge from Asia and Siberia approximately 13,000 to 13,500 years ago. These people, the first North Americans, were known collectively as Clovis people.

What is the largest Native American tribe by population? ›

The tribe with the largest landmass in America is the Navajo Nation, which also has the largest tribal population.

What is the largest native tribe population in the US? ›

Key Takeaways
2021 American Community Survey (“Selected Tribal Groups of American Indians,” Estimated Population)
Native American GroupEstimated “Alone” Population
Mexican American Indian548,959
Navajo Nation328,370
Cherokee Nation227,856
11 more rows

What state has most Indian reservations? ›

Where Are Reservations Located? The highest concentration of Native American reservations can be found in the western United States. California alone has 103 reservations that are recognized by the federal government.

Do Native Americans get money from the government? ›

Federally recognized tribes can apply for government funding for services and programs. Some programs provide funds directly to tribal members living on or near reservations.

Which state has the most Indian immigrants? ›

The largest share of immigrants from India lived in California (20 percent), followed by Texas (11 percent), and New Jersey (10 percent) as of the 2015-19 period, the most recent pooled data file available from the U.S. Census Bureau at this writing (MPI uses the five-year ACS file for more precise estimates for ...


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