BLOOMINGTON — A quote from Lakota Chief Sitting Bull rings true for Nitakechi Muckintubbee: “Let’s put our minds together to see what kind of life we can make for our children.”
The Illinois State University sophomore is president of Teaching, Reviving, Indigenizing, Beautifying and Equalizing communities, or TRIBE. The 25-member group’s mission is to give voice to Native American, Inuit, Pacific Islander and other groups who are part of the ISU community.
“We need to stop thinking about the past and the things that we’ve learned, and we need to relearn new things. We need to see what world we can craft for the next generations,” said Muckintubbee, who grew up near Peoria and is part of the Choctaw and Chickasaw communities.
The focus is a step in the long effort to reflect the extensive historical injustices endured by Native Americans, times marked by forced relocations, massacres, starvation and disease.
“Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to,” the proclamation reads.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last week formally declared “squaw” a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to eliminate it from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names.
And on Thursday, members of Native American tribes from around New England gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to raise awareness about the centuries of sweeping mistreatment.
“We Native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims,” said Kisha James, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Oglala Lakota tribes and the granddaughter of Wamsutta Frank James, the event’s founder. “We want to educate people so that they understand the stories we all learned in school about the first Thanksgiving are nothing but lies.”
Muckintubbee said his people have been portrayed in ancient and narrow terms, and become detached from traditions.
In his case, one of his ancestors walked the Trail of Tears while pregnant with his great-great-grandmother, Katie Muckintubby. He has great-uncles who were sent to boarding schools designed to take Native children from their families, change their names and keep them from speaking their language. Their hair, which is considered sacred, was cut.
“The only reason my grandma didn’t go is because her dad stood at the door with a shotgun and said, ‘You’re not taking my daughter,’” Muckintubbee said.
Muckintubbee said the motto of these institutions was “kill the Indian, save the man.” The goal: morph people to fit more into white society.
Although his grandma escaped boarding school, she became victim to “termination policy,” which was the government’s attempt to disband tribes from the 1950s through the 1980s, he said.
Those laws continued to displace Native people to urban population centers, he said. As a result, they lost legal representation.
Native Americans in Illinois
Today, fewer than 1,000 Choctaw and Chickasaw live in Illinois. Historically, the Illinois, Miami, Winnebago, Fox and Sacs (Sauk), Kickapoo and Pottawatomie tribes all had a presence in Illinois. The Trail of Tears, which saw the removal of thousands, also passed through the southern part of the state.
“Their culture is still based around this place,” Muckintubbee said. “They’re the people that hold this land sacred.”
Greg Koos, a retired director of the McLean County Museum of History, has studied Native American history in the region.
Koos said the Grand Village of the Kickapoo, now a park near what is now Moraine View State Recreation Area, was wiped out by a smallpox epidemic in 1813. Six years later, the Kickapoo signed a treaty and ceded millions of acres of land to the U.S.
Koos said some groups of Kickapoo stayed, including followers who took up the ways of American settlers hoping their presence would be accepted. But they were rounded up by the U.S. government by 1830 and forced west or south.
Muckintubbee said their identity as Native people is based on tribal association. That includes their kinship and being able to learn and carry on the language and traditions of ancestors.
Muckintubbee said that’s hard to do when you’re physically removed from your community. He feels his own connection is distanced; he’s only been to the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma once.
Muckintubbee, who is majoring in history and social sciences education, said the key is for non-Native people to forget everything they’ve learned about Indigenous people, because much comes from outdated history books, cartoons, or spaghetti westerns.
He also wants people to know Native communities are alive and present in the modern era — and not just “descendants of Indigenous people.”
He recalled attending grade school in Bartonville and having to complete a classroom assignment on Columbus Day. Students were given a little paper boat and instructed to color in the flag of the country that their people left before coming to the U.S.
Muckintubbee said he drew in the flag of the Choctaw Nation, and “I was basically berated by my teacher.
“She said that Native Americans are all dead, so I can’t be a Native American and I had to redo the boat.”
Returning to their homelands
Muckintubbee said more steps need to be taken to give Native Americans economic opportunity in the lands they were forced to leave.
Muckintubbee pointed out efforts here could help lessen the impact of the state’s sharp population decline in recent years. There are thousands of people in rural communities across the U.S. who would love to return their homeland in Illinois, he said.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for building a family life here that aren’t able to be done in places like rural Oklahoma and rural Kansas,” he said, adding their options in those areas are limited to farming, ranching, or maybe working for a small business.
Incentives for the Indigenous could include forgoing taxes on registering new businesses or sales taxes. He said people can’t just pick up their whole lives and move.
“It takes state support, and it also takes cooperation between both governments,” he said.
Today, TRIBE is working to join the ISU Multicultural Center, and it’s encouraging the university to provide assistance to Indigenous students in the form of tuition waivers or discounts.
Of the members, 8% are American Indigenous, 20% are Caribbean or Mesoamerican Indigenous, and the rest are non-Indigenous people who support them.
Said Muckintubbee: “We are not monoliths. We’re not tokens. We’re not caricatures. We’re human beings.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
20 Bloomington-Normal restaurants we wish would come back
Gil’s Country Inn
Gil’s Country Inn, a longtime, family-owned restaurant in Minier, closed in 2013 after the economy took its toll. The restaurant was particularly known for its fried chicken.
Lancaster’s Fine Dining, 513 N. Main St., a downtown Bloomington mainstay for nearly 16 years, closed its doors in August 2014. A struggling economy and the upscale restaurant’s location in a neighborhood of bars were factors.
Bennigan’s, which billed itself as an “Irish American Grill & Tavern” closed its Normal location in July 2008 after the chain filed for bankruptcy. The eatery, 115 S. Veterans Parkway, was replaced by Wild Berries, which was later closed and razed. Owner Tartan Realty Group of Chicago now plans to build a four-unit development at the site.
Lox, Stock & Bagel
Lox, Stock & Bagel closed in May 2004 after 22 years at Normal’s College Hills Mall, in tandem with the mall’s conversion to the Shoppes at College Hills.
Zorbas, popular for serving Greek food, gyros and breakfast, closed in 2015 after its location at 603 Dale St., Normal, was sold to a developer. The eatery first opened in 1983 around the corner at 707 S. Main St.
The historic Grand Hotel, 1201 E. Emerson St., Bloomington, once served as a winter training quarters for a number of circus acts and was converted into a restaurant in 1937. The property was foreclosed upon by Pontiac National Bank in 2001, sold in 2002 and demolished a few months later.
Mr. Quick Drive-In
The Mr. Quick restaurant at Clinton and Washington streets had its grand opening in January 1966, with burgers starting at 15 cents and coffee for a dime a cup. The restaurant closed in 2001 and the city of Bloomington later bought the site and razed the building so it could widen the intersection.
Chicago Style Pizzeria
Chicago Style Pizzeria, 1500 E. Empire St., Bloomington, closed in 2015 after 22 years in business when owners Abe and Ruth Taha (Abe is pictured above) decided to retire.
Shannon’s Federal Café
Shannon’s Federal Cafe, 105 W. Front St., opened in 1997 after its owners took over the historic Federal Cafe in downtown Bloomington, which closed two years earlier. Shannon’s closed in 2004 because the owners also ran Shannon’s Five Star Restaurant, and the demands of both businesses were too much.
Damon’s – The Place for Ribs opened in 1995 at 1701 Fort Jesse Road, Normal. The eatery closed in 2006 after business had declined; the site is now a CVS pharmacy.
Australian-themed Ned Kelly’s Steakhouse opened in May 1992 in what was the former location of Bob Knapp’s in the Brandtville Center (now known as Morrissey Crossing). It closed in August 2007 after the company’s four Central Illinois locations were unable to compete with bigger chains.
Arnie’s was a popular Twin City eatery for 25 years. Located at the Bloomington airport terminal, it closed in 2003, shortly after the Central Illinois Regional Airport moved to its current location about a mile east. A subsequent restaurant, Arnie’s Etc., was open for about a year in the former terminal building, until it closed in 2005.
Diamond Dave’s, a mainstay at the former College Hills Mall for 21 years, closed its doors in June 2004 in tandem with the gutting of the mall to create what is now the Shoppes at College Hills.
Jerry’s Grille opened in 1999 in Bloomington’s Brandtville shopping center, taking over the spot used by another eatery, Henry Wellington. It closed it 2005 and then became Goodfellas, which also closed.
After 33 years in the heart of Normal, Golden West closed in 2002, after the owners received a surprise offer for the site and decided it was time to sell. The building, 712 S, Kingsley St., was later resold to Tartan Realty and demolished in 2003.
After eight years at 407 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, Ming’s closed in 2012. The eatery was facing foreclosure at the time.
The former Central Station restaurant in downtown Bloomington, once a firehouse in days gone by, is now home to Epiphany Farms Restaurant and Anju Above.
Chevys Fresh Mex
Chevys Fresh Mex, 704 S. Eldorado Road, Bloomington, closed in 2011 after being open nearly nine years. The site has also been home to several other restaurants, including a House of Hunan, Shakey’s Pizza and Butterfields.
The Caboose, a historic Bloomington eatery at 608 W. Seminary St., closed without fanfare in February 2012. The restaurant, with several owners and names including Chuck’s Caboose and Barney’s Caboose, had been a west-side fixture for more than 60 years.
Delgado’s, a popular Mexican restaurant at 201 Landmark Drive, Normal, closed in May 2005 after after 24 years in business. It is now the location of Los Potrillos.
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison
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November 27, 2021 at 12:13PM