Life & English: Native Americans in Illinois

Native Americans were the first people to live in Illinois. When French explorers first reached the area in 1673, they were welcomed. Native Americans helped the explorers find their way trough their territory. By the time the French arrived, native peoples had already been living in Illinois for about 12,000 years.

Native Americans were the first to farm Illinois rich soil. They built the first villages along the rivers of Illinois. Even the state’s name comes from Native Americans. Illinois is named for the Illinois Nation, a group of Native American tribes in the region. The tribes of the Illinois Nation occupied a vast territory along the Mississippi river. They lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. Some of the Illinois tribes made their home in the land that would become the state of Illinois. The tribes of the Illinois Nation shared the same language, which is part of the Algonquin language family. The name Illinois came from a French spelling of their own name for themselves – Illiniwek. Roughly translated, Illiniwek means “the men” or “the people”.

A Native Americans' festival

In 2000, there were more than 4 millions Native Americans in the United States. Illinois is still home to about 31,000. They are members of tribes from all over North America. Many moved to Illinois to find jobs in cities. They still try to preserve their traditions. Native Americans hold powwows in Chicago, Peoria, Utica and other places in Illinois. Native American children participate as dancers, drummers or storytellers. Storytelling is a very old Native American tradition. Cultural practices and belief were passed on through stories. Today, tribal groups try to preserve that tradition.

Quy Minh

Reference: “Illinois Native Peoples” by Andrew Santella, Heinemann State Studies

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