Native American Heritage within Southern Illinois
SIH respectfully acknowledges the Indigenous peoples and lands on which our system and facilities reside. Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of all the people within the communities we serve, which includes all Native Americans and those of Native American descent.
History of Tribes within Southern Illinois
Native American tribes and cultures extend further into the past than written history can encompass. Before explorers arrived in the Americas, native peoples had been living on the western continents for thousands of years. Archeologists have identified three cultural eras that extended through Southern Illinois within the last 2,000 years: Eastern Woodland cultures, Mississippian cultures and Plains Village cultures. Eastern Woodland cultures shifted from solely hunting, gathering and fishing to incorporate the beginnings of agriculture. They also began to develop a village-based society and religious rituals for their dead. Around 500-700, the Mississippian culture began to emerge. Most artifacts found in Southern Illinois are from Mississippian peoples. This culture shift brought larger cities and a central shared economy. Religion continued to advance and helped unify people together. The largest Mississippian city north of Mexico is in Collinsville, Illinois, at Cahokia Mounds. It held an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people during the 1100s. The Mississippian culture of centralized living and agriculture continued to advance into the Plains Village culture. Defined by more substantially permanent housing placed next to major streams and rivers, Plains Village culture continued to further religious celebrations and observances. Plains Village culture was the predecessor to the Native American tribes and culture that met European explorers during the mid-20th century.
Photo of Cahokia Mounds during the 2022 Summer Solstice by Mike Chervinko
By the time European explorers arrived in the Southern Illinois area, this land was home to the Illiniwek tribe. The Illiniwek were a confederation of 12-13 tribes who lived in the Mississippi River Valley, ranging from Michigan through Arkansas and include the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Peoria, Michigamea and Tamaroa tribes. The Illiniwek were partially nomadic with their movements tied to the seasons; they stayed in one place to plant and harvest then relocated in the colder months. The Illiniwek first encountered the French in the 1670s near present-day Utica in Northern Illinois. In 1832, the few remaining Illiniwek peoples signed a treaty with the United States government. They unwillingly ceded their lands in Illinois and were forcibly moved to Kansas. In 1854, the remaining few peoples in the Illiniwek tribes reorganized as the Peoria Tribe of Indians and currently live in Oklahoma.
The Trail of Tears brought the Cherokee tribe through Southern Illinois. Entering Illinois at Golconda in late 1838, Native Americans spent three months traveling 60 miles across the state in harsh cold. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people died during this brief amount of time. The Cherokee tribe crossed the Mississippi in February 1839 west of Ware, Illinois. Today, the Trail of Tears exists as different parts of Highway 146.
SIH Urology Surgical Scheduling Coordinator Kristina Wilver is of Native American descent. Her father and his father are both members of the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes. Kristina’s family was forcibly removed from Louisiana and made to travel to Illinois and Arizona along the Trail of Tears. It’s made tracing her ancestry difficult because there are no official records of everyone that traveled the trail. She was able to find some family members through the Dawes Rolls, the list of people eligible for tribal membership amongst the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole tribes) that was signed between 1898 and 1914. “I had no idea how far back we went. Seeing pictures is really cool,” she says. The Dawes Rolls doesn’t have all names from these tribes; many Native Americans didn’t sign to protect their identity or because they were lost while traveling along the Trail of Tears. Kristina says it’s a struggle for Native Americans to research their lineage and connect with each other because of how few records were kept. The resources she can access are often financially out of reach, which is why she tries to also look forward. “The culture is beautiful. I encourage people to learn about pow-wows, food, art and pottery, because it’s absolutely amazing.”
Names and Words with Algonquin Origin
- Cities: Kaskaskia, IL; Cahokia, IL
- States: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Mississippi
- Caribou - Mi'kmaq
- Caucus – Algonquin
- Chipmunk – Odawa
- Hickory – Powhatan
- Moose – Eastern Abenaki
- Opossum – Powahatan
- Pecan – Algonquin
- Racoon – Powahatan
- Skunk – Massachussett
Photo of Millstone Bluff by Mike Chervinko
Native American Historical Locations near Southern Illinois
- Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. At its height in 1100, it was estimated to have housed 10,000 to 20,000 people of the Mississippian tribe. Cahokia Mounds was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and is located in Collinsville, Illinois.
- Millstone Bluff in the Shawnee National Forest is a sacred Native American site. It holds relics from when the Mississippian tribe lived there between 1350 and 1550.
- Kincaid Mounds in Paducah, Kentucky, was a Mississippian agricultural hub from 1050 to 1400. The mounds took over 350 years to construct and the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1946.
- Piney Creek Ravine in Chester, Illinois, is home to the largest display of prehistoric rock art throughout the state. Visitors can view petroglyphs from the Woodland and Mississippian tribes.
About the Author: Kristina Wilver is an SIH Urology Surgical Scheduling Coordinator.
About the Photographer: Mike Chervinko is an RN at SIH Carbondale Memorial Hospital.