Heritage Markers: Local Native American History and Cultures

From street signs to statues, Native American heritage is all around us. While Illinois no longer has any reservations, over 40,000 American Indian peoples representing over 150 tribes live in the Chicagoland area. Dotted throughout the region are markers of Native American heritage from yesterday and today.

Expanding on the existing fishing and hunting wigwam and the mural of the Skokie lagoons on the museum’s second floor, “Heritage Markers: Local Native American History and Culture” uses local heritage markers, contemporary Native organizations, street signs, and town names as touchstones to discuss the local Native history.

The exhibit begins with projectile points and potsherds found in the backyards of Evanston and Wilmette. In this section, the exhibition explains the tribal presence throughout Illinois before European contact and highlights the development and decline of these many tribes, including the Illinois Nation. Origin stories are contrasted with the archeological interpretation of regional sites like Cahokia, Aztalan, and Dickson Mounds. Visitors can learn about the culture of the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi peoples who lived in this area with quotes from descendants who returned to make this area their home again today.

In the next section, visitors learn through plaques and statues about the Native peoples’ first encounters with Marquette, Jolliet, and Jean-Baptiste Point DuSable, as well as the relationships they formed. Visitors will learn the meaning behind city names like Chicago, Sauganash, Wilmette, and Evanston and places like Ft. Dearborn, Ft. Sheridan, Indian Boundary Park, and the Foster Avenue Bricolage. Through this historical journey, portraits, cultural objects, maps, and photos will bring the story to life.

The final section highlights the contemporary Native community in the Chicagoland area and the Relocation Act, which pushed Native people to move off the reservations to urban centers like Chicago in the 1950s. Learn about their relocation experience and the organizations they built to sustain their culture in this new urban environment. The history of Chicagoland is enmeshed with Native American history; it is a part of all of our history and culture today.