Illinois Native Americans to gather at Old State Capitol, demand inclusion

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More than 50 central Illinois Native Americans will gather today in Springfield to demand inclusion and state recognition.

The Native American Summit, organized by the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative, will begin at 11 a.m. at the Old State Capitol, 526 E. Adams St.

“Things have come to a head in terms of legislation and the year’s events became a catalyst for us to mobilize,” said CAICC board member Andrew Johnson. ”We get calls during Native American Heritage Month so we’re jumping all around right now, but we’re Native American the other 11 months of the year, too.”

At the top of today’s agenda is an effort to introduce legislation requiring Native American history to be taught in Illinois public schools beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.

Johnson said the lack of representation on the Illinois State Board of Education’s Inclusive American History Commission, a 22-person group chosen to assist ISBE in revising its curriculum to be more inclusive of all cultures, is telling of how native people are ignored.

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“You had a bill go through our legislature where nobody questioned the content of the commission in terms of members and left off Native Americans completely,” he said. ”That’s an example of the lack of curriculum in our classrooms, even the adults aren’t being inclusive in the discussion of bills that are being passed.”

State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, introduced legislation for the requirement earlier this year, which he said stemmed from the 2020 protest for the removal of the Indian mascot and Native American iconography at Hononegah High School in Rockton. He wanted to ensure that Native Americans were involved before moving forward in the process so the legislation was placed on hold.

West has been meeting with a working group of Native Americans once a month to discuss language of the bill and other important details. Johnson said West’s efforts have helped amplify their concerns.

“I cannot speak more highly of representative West and his support, we truly appreciate him. Its something where he’s working in conjunction with us on and wont do anything we’re not in agreement with so we feel fortunate to work with him. ”

West said proper education about the native community could help people avoid cultural appropriation.

“If we start with our curriculum and educate young people about the importance of Native American history and how Illinois and Chicago are names of Native American tribes, it could help our cause when it comes to mascots and how we operate throughout the state in our interaction with Native American people,” West said. ”We formulated a working group and are focusing on curriculum first and then heading to mascots but there are many regulations in place so we’re just trying to navigate the waters.”

CIACC is requesting that in addition to a mandated curriculum, a Native American Council should be formed to work with ISBE on American Indian history resources, content and professional development. It also hopes to see a task force formed to audit current teaching and practices in schools.

With currently 104,386 Native Americans living in Illinois, Johnson said acknowledgment is another concern for the community. Illinois does not have any federally recognized tribes, unlike most Midwest states.

“History for natives here begins in 1492, with contact with the Europeans, and ends at the end of the 1800s, which is when people began to learn about Native Americans, but we’ve been here thousands of years. It’s an understanding that we are not transient occupiers of this land,” he said. “This is the land we’ve lived on for eons and its part of us, our culture and our history. We want the land acknowledgement to provide understanding that we were here before, we’re here today, and we will be in the future.”

Other agenda topics include the designation of urban Indian funding, wearing regalia at events, recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day and economic development. Johnson said the goal is to be recognized on every level nationally and throughout the state. 

“When it comes to actions or discussions people should think, ‘Well how does this affect the original people of this land or what kind of input would they have?” he said. ”It’s about engaging, understanding and appreciating the individuals and cultural values set in terms of relationships with earth, nature, and other people.”

A statue of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, outside the Old State Capitol.

Johnson said the group is looking forward to meeting with elected officials not only to express concern, but to let them know they are accessible when needed for input. He said the public is invited to attend the summit and support the community by bringing issues to the forefront. 

“We’re gonna celebrate with drum and song, have our press conference, meet with legislators, and have a briefing panel. its going to be a very long day but a very good one,” Johnson said. 

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November 16, 2022 at 06:49AM

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