As Adoptees we need to be flexible, open to the new, to synchronicities, to unlikely possibilities and to seeing the extraordinary opportunities we have, to deal with the losses, the traumas of adoption, to be who we want to be. Identity, that ‘thing’ we have taken from us in adoption which is replaced by a new identity invented by our adopters, is not a fixed point in our lives. Identity is ours to create, we can be whoever we want to be, no matter who we were told we were. – Von Hughes (on Lost Daughters)
Identity? Oh yeah, baby. It’s so vast, so incredibly vast. In my 2014 and 2020 chapbook Becoming I list some of my grandmothers (the ones who gave me blood and ancestry) because some are immigrants and some are Indigenous. I have so much interest in them, I can barely contain my emotions of enthusiasm and happiness that I finally know some of their names!
My cousin Cathy was asking me why some of our relatives hid the fact they have Indian ancestry. Some posts I have on this blog might be a good indication. Savages? Not able to vote? Own land? Herded to concentration camps/reservations?
Cathy’s grandmother Bessie and my grandmother Lona are sisters. BUT her grandmother claimed their mother (Mary Frances Harlow) was not Indian. (I didn’t meet my grandma Lona.) Yet Bessie’s father always said his mother was Indian and made sure he told his children and grandchildren.
My own dad told me his grandma Mary Frances was Eastern Cherokee. (We also have Shawnee ancestry.)
But how could a Cherokee/Shawnee be in Illinois?
After the boats and invasions, when colonies became the United States of America, Native Americans were very aware they were being denied basic civil rights. I know many readers are history teachers or history buffs, so you already know about the Cherokee Trail of Tears, etc. Some of my ancestors were in Tennessee and Kentucky then were forced on the trail. Some made it as far as Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and stopped. Why? Because if they married white men, or married mixed-blood men who didn’t claim they are Indian, that meant they had a future. If they had family already in Illinois that could also be their salvation!
I have many ancestors who lived and died in Pana, Illinois. Where Illinois meets Kentucky was another Trail of Tears. Where southern Illinois meets Missouri is the Trail of Tears State Park. Illinois, particularly south-central Illinois is filled with street names like Nokomis, Pocahantas, Mowequa, Powhatan, Chillicothe, and many more. I do not believe this is mere coincidence. Many Indians in the East were moving and migrating as more and more colonists were encroaching – and somehow enough (mixed) Indians were in Illinois and enough settled in Illinois, enough to have an influence on place names. (The last time I drove through Illinois, my jaw dropped at all the Indian names!)
- Illinois is an Algonquin word. Illinois – from the French rendering of an Algonquian (perhaps Miami) word apparently meaning “s/he speaks normally” (c.f. Miami ilenweewa), from Proto-Algonquian *elen-, “ordinary” + -wē, “to speak”, referring to the Illiniwek.
- Chicago – derived from the French rendering of a Miami-Illinois word for a type of wild onion
- Peoria – named after the Peoria Tribe which previously lived in the area
- The name “Pana” is derived from the American Indian tribe, the Pawnee. Pawnee became “pani” or “slave” in the French patois or creole that developed in Illinois. This evolved into “Pana”, now pronounced, however, [ˈpejnə].
Though I have not researched this, many mounds are also in this area! Many were plowed down but thankfully some still exist. Cahokia Mounds is located in Collinsville, Illinois off Interstates 55/70 and 255. My Miq’mac friend Alice Azure wrote a book about her visits to these ancient sacred mounds.
Why would Indians settle in Illinois?
Some were already there but during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. government attempted to control the travel of all Native Americans off the Indian reservations. Since Native Americans did not obtain U.S. citizenship until 1924, they were considered wards of the state and were denied various basic rights, including the right to travel.[WIKI 30] The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) discouraged off-reservation activities, including the right to hunt, fish, or visit other tribes. As a result, the BIA instituted a “pass system” designed to control movement of the Indians. This system required Indians living on reservations to obtain a pass from an Indian agent before they could leave the reservation.[WIKI 31]
If I were Indian in the late 1800s, forced to walk hundreds of miles, I’d settle down in Illinois and find a nice man, marry and have my kids. Better than moving to Indian Territory/Oklahoma reservations where you couldn’t leave without permission and a pass.
So I will continue with my family research and try to find more of my grandmother’s stories, if they exist on paper. (I am very very grateful to know their names!)
The original inhabitants of the area that is now Illinois included:
About Our Maps
|The Chickasaw tribe
The Dakota Sioux tribe
The Ho-Chunk tribe (Winnebago)
The Illinois tribe (Illini)
The Miami tribe
The Shawnee tribe
Other Indian tribes that migrated into Illinois after Europeans arrived:
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.