Skip to Main Content

Indigenous/First Nations Health Care: Chicago Indigenous Cultures

"The 2010 Census puts about 101,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in Illinois, and about 27,000 in the city of Chicago. In total, the greater Chicago area has the third-largest off-reservation population of Native Americans in the country. Many of them, or their predecessors, came back starting in the 1950s, when the federal government began its Urban Indian Relocation Program. Most of those who claim ancestral roots here are probably from lines that went away for a while and then returned in recent decades"

(WBEZ, "Do Descendants of Chicago's Native American Tribes Live In The City Today?").

"Illinois" and "Chicago"

26 states in the United States are named after words from various Indigenous peoples' native languages. Here is a list of all the states' names and their meanings.

Illinois comes from the Miami-Illinois verb irenwe·wa—"he speaks the regular way". This was taken into the Ojibwe language, perhaps in the Ottawa dialect, and modified into ilinwe· (pluralized as ilinwe·k). The French borrowed these forms, changing the /we/ ending to spell it as -ois, a transliteration for its pronunciation in French of that time. The current spelling form, Illinois, began to appear in the early 1670s, when French colonists had settled in the western area (Wikipedia).

Chicago  is derived from a French rendering of the indigenous Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa for a wild relative of the onion; it is known to botanists as Allium tricoccum and known more commonly as "ramps". The first known reference to the site of the current city of Chicago as "Checagou" was by Robert de LaSalle around 1679 in a memoir (Wikipedia).


(Maritza Garcia, of the Choctaw Mississippi tribe, performed a traditional Ojibwe dance as part of a ceremony outside the Field Museum on Oct. 26 2018. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Researching Illinois/Chicago Indigenous Peoples:


History of Illinois Native American Tribes

"The most prominent Indian tribes in Illinois were the Illinois, Miami, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Sac (Sauk) and Fox, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi tribes. Most of these tribes were eliminated from Illinois by about the mid-nineteenth century either through warfare or resettlement to other territories by the federal government" (Family Search).

  • Illinois People: Inoka or Iliniwek, and later Illinwe (which was translated into French as "Illinois"). A confederacy of 12-13 Algonquian tribes, formerly occupying south Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and sections of Iowa and Missouri, comprising the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, and Tamaroa (Wikipedia, "Illinois Confederation"). The Illinois were a populous and powerful nation that occupied a large section of the Mississippi River valley. They became important allies of French fur traders and colonists who came to live among them, and they played a key role in the early history of what would later become the Midwestern United States (Illinois State Museum). Once estimated to be almost 70,000 in number (in 1660), by 1800 there were only about 150 Illini peoples left, due largely to inter-tribal warfare. In 1833 the survivors, represented by the Kaskaskia and Peoria, sold their lands in Illinois and removed west of the Mississippi, and are now in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, consolidated with the Wea and Piankashaw. In 1885 the consolidated Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, and Piankashaw numbered but 149, and even these are much mixed with white blood. In 1905 their number was 195.(Access Genealogy, "Illinois Tribe").
  • Miami People: a Native American nation originally speaking one of the Algonquian languages. Among the peoples known as the Great Lakes tribes, it occupied territory that is now identified as North-central Indiana, southwest Michigan, and western Ohio. By 1846, most of the Miami had been deported to Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is the only federally recognized tribe of Miami Indians in the United States. As of 2011, there are an estimated 3,908 Miami-identified Native Americans in the United States (Wikipedia, "Miami people").
  • Ho-Chunk People:  The Ho-Chunk (also known as Winnebago) are a Siouan-speaking Native American people whose historic territory includes parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Today, Ho-Chunk people are enrolled in two federally recognized tribes, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The Ho-Chunk was the dominant tribe in its territory in the 16th century, with a population estimated at several thousand. The Ho-Chunk suffered severe population losses in the 17th century, to a low of perhaps as few as 500 individuals. This has been attributed to the loss of hundreds of warriors in a lake storm, epidemics of infectious disease, and competition for resources from migrating Algonquian tribes. By the early 1800s, their population had increased to 2,900, but they suffered further losses in the smallpox epidemic of 1836. In 1990 they numbered 7,000; current estimates of total population of the two tribes are 12,000 (Wikipedia, "Ho-Chunk").
  • Sac (Sauk) and Fox People: The Sac and Fox tribes have historically been closely allied, and continue to be in the present day. They are both part of the Algonquin linguistic family and speak very similar Algonquin languages. The Fox people were identified as "Fox" through a possible misunderstanding, and self-identify as Meshkwa kihig’ or Meskwaki, signifying “red earth people,” from the kind of earth from which they are supposed to have been created (Access Genealogy, "Fox Indians"). Together, the Sac/Sauk and Fox Nation are referred to as the Thakiwaki or Sa ki wa ki peoples, meaning "people coming forth from the water". They lived near Lake Huron and Lake Michigan at the time of European contact. In 1832 they participated in the Black Hawk War against the United States. Military leader Black Hawk remains a cultural hero today, as does the Sac diplomat Keokuk. After the war, the tribe relocated several times from Illinois to Iowa, Kansas, and finally Indian Territory in the 1870s.Of the 3,794 enrolled tribal members, 2,557 live in Oklahoma (Wikipedia, "Sac and Fox Nation").
  • Kickapoo People: This tribe, after helping destroy the Illinois nation, settled on Vermilion River and extended its territories to Illinois River. Rising tensions between the regional tribes and the United States led to Tecumseh's War in 1811. The Kickapoo were one of Tecumseh's closest allies. Many Kickapoo warriors participated in the Battle of Tippecanoe and the subsequent War of 1812 on the side of the British, hoping to expel the American settlers from the region. A prominent, nonviolent spiritual leader among the Kickapoo was Kennekuk, who led his followers during Indian Removal in the 1830s to their current tribal lands in Kansas (Wikipedia, "Kickapoo people"). It ceded this land to the United States Government July 30, 1819. In about 1852 a large party of Kickapoo, along with some Potawatomi, went to Texas and thence to Mexico, where they became known as “Mexican Kickapoo” (Access Genealogy, "Kickapoo Indians"). There are an estimated 5,000 Kickapoo people today, with about 3,000 of them registered.
  • Potawatomi People: also spelled Pottawatomi and Pottawatomie, are a Native American people of the Great Plains, upper Mississippi River, and western Great Lakes region. They traditionally speak the Potawatomi language, a member of the Algonquian family. The Potawatomi call themselves Neshnabé, a cognate of the word Anishinaabe. In the 19th century, they were pushed to the west by European/American encroachment in the late 18th century and removed from their lands in the Great Lakes region to reservations in Oklahoma. Under Indian Removal, they eventually ceded many of their lands, and most of the Potawatomi relocated to Nebraska, Kansas, and Indian Territory, now in Oklahoma. Some bands survived in the Great Lakes region and today are federally recognized as tribes. There are an estimated 28,000 Potawatomi people today between the United States and Canada. (Wikipedia, "Potawatomi").


(Native Americans stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota during the NoDAPL rally in Chicago. Sept. 9, 2016.
Pat Nabong/MEDIL)