Illiniwek tribe ruled in Illinois

By JT Cummings, Staff Writer

The bell rings for recess. Hordes of children dash out the doors to the playground. Children running around making high-pitch sounds while slapping their mouths to make an unnecessarily emphasized vibrato—Cowboys and Indians—classic schoolyard game.

Illinois was originally inhabited by six Native American tribes: The Chickasaw, the Dakota Sioux, the Ho-Chunk, the Illiniwek, the Miami, and the Shawnee tribes. The largest of these in Illinois being the Illiniwek tribe, often referred to as the Illini.

The state of Illinois was named after Illiniwek, an Algonquin word meaning “men,” according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal. In the 1600s French Canadians explored the rich bison-filled prairielands belonging to the Illiniwek people. Upon finding the name “Illiniwek” difficult to pronounce, they made their own version.

Since European arrival in the Midwest, there have been several other Native American tribes to migrate to and through Illinois: the Delaware, the Kickapoo, the Ottawa, the Potawatomi, the Sac and Fox, and the Wyandot.

According to, Native American tribes still exist but were forced to move to reservations in Oklahoma by the US government. The Illinois State Museum website reports that back in the 1600s when the Illinois Confederacy— a powerful association of about 13 tribes— was at its prime, there were over 10,000 Native Americans in the Illinois area.

This number has dramatically decreased. The U.S. Census reports of the 112,000 people living in Kankakee County that only 0.4 percent of the population is Native American and out of the nearly 13 million people living in Illinois, only 0.6 percent are Native American.

While Kankakee’s Native American population is high compared to the rest of the state, it is still low. During European colonization of the Illinois area, Native Americans were encouraged and forced to adopt European lifestyle and beliefs, which lead to the near extinction of Native American culture in mainstream society.

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