Oh hey there Paddle Forward crew!! My name is Lily Moloney and I’m a chemistry major at Augsburg College. I moved to Minneapolis, MN three years ago when I started school but I am originally from Iowa City, IA (home of the Hawkeyes and lots of corn!). At the beginning of this semester I had the pleasure of exploring the Mississippi River for ten days with my class and Liz Just, who told us all about your trip. It has been really fun following you guys and comparing your experiences with my own.
On our trip, we stopped on Prairie Island (which isn’t an island anymore, due to channelization…but that’s a whole other story) and talked to Paul Dressen, director of education, about the Indian reservation that is located on the island. Prairie Island reservation is home to the Mdewakanton, which means “those who were born of the waters.” The Mdewakanton have done a tremendous job of restoring prairie fields. They have also partnered with The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council to bring back the buffalo.
You guys started your trip in Chicago, IL, which is home to over 49,000 Native Americans who represent over 100 different tribes. This may seem like a very large number, but before the European Invasion, Chicago was home to several powerful tribes, including the Potawatomi, Maiami, and Illinois, and now they are outnumbered by nearly every other ethnic group.
After the European Invasion, the Indian population in the Chicago area dwindled down to almost nothing. Then in the 1900s, the population began to rise again when many Native Americans moved from rural neighborhoods and reservations to urban areas, such as Chicago, in pursuit of jobs and other opportunities. This move was also partially because of the government relocation program in the 1950s. Moving to the Chicago area was a scary time for many Native Americans, but they found comfort in social clubs that they formed. The growing population and the formation of social groups lead to the American Indian Center, which w as established in 1953. In the 1960s and 70s several more large organizations were formed when civil rights and social issues were prominent and funding was available.
After the 1970s, the number of American Indian organizations kept increasing till around thirty years ago when they maxed out at a little over twenty. These organizations inform people of American Indian history and culture as well as being involved in a variety of community needs and interests including, education, health, and arts. Unfortunately, the organizations' funds have been cut by the city and federal government due to the recession that began in 2008. The 20+ American Indian organizations dropped to around 3 organizations.
The Indigenous people chose the land you are traveling through because of its riverways. The Chicago and Illinois rivers connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi, making them very useful for trading. The river also is a great source of new water among its many other uses. For these reasons, the Native American community was tied closely with the river. Sadly, today's Chicagoans (including the Native Americans) have little connection with the river because it's mostly for large-scale commercial use.
Hope you guys find this helpful and interesting!