KEWANEE – Anyone wishing to get as close as possible to the ghosts of Native Americans in this rural county may want to take Rt. 78 south of Annawan six miles or north of Kewanee four miles and turn either east or west 10 miles to follow 20 miles of the Great Sauk Trail.
At an event organized by the Sauk Trail Organization for Preservation II on Wednesday night, tribal historic officers from four Native American tribes told about their tribes’ movements through the Great Lakes and Midwest regions.
Although Henry County had no grand villages with 10,000 or more Native American residents, the historic officers said the county was a desirable hunting ground, and Native Americans would have traveled over the Great Sauk Trail to get there.
“We came this way to hunt,” said Diane Hunter, tribal historic officer for the Miami Nation. “If you’re going to come this way, you’re going to take the beaten path, so I’m pretty sure we would have taken the Great Sauk Trail.”
She said her people came “out of the water” on the St. Joseph River that flows into Lake Michigan, but by the latter half of the 17th century they were in Illinois, going up and down the Mississippi River for trade and other purposes. Eventually they “ceded land and ceded land until we finally ceded the last for land in Kansas.” That wasn’t even their last stop; about the time of the Civil War it was found they were on good farmland and they were forced to move to northeastern Oklahoma.
Others who spoke were Bill Quackenbush of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Lester Randall of the Kickapoo Nation and Elsie Whitehorn of the Otoe-Missouria Winnebago Nation.
The STOP organization is seeking to bring a halt to a proposed 25-turbine wind farm in Kewanee and Burns townships near Native American artifacts sites. These turbines would be even taller than existing ones in Henry County at 600 feet.
The chief archaeologist for the state of Illinois, Jeff Kruchten, spoke to the group, telling them if the wind farm goes forward, the project area will be surveyed by professional archaeologists.
“I’m guessing there will be some found,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that’s going to stop this wind farm.”
He said the wind farm could be designed around the sensitive sites.
He said to be included in the national register for historic places, a site only has to contribute to knowledge of the past. “So it’s pretty open-ended,” he said.
He said a recommendation by professional archaeologists would come to him for a final decision and in federal project reviews, “all of you may be invited as my equals for input as they make those determinations.”
Regina Tsosie, a Navajo and co-founder of the Sage Sisters of Solidarity of the Quad Cities said that the historic tribal officers have an advantage.
“We’re not as powerful as the nations, because we’re urban people,” she said. “We try to do what we can do the best way we can.”
Dick Wells, the master of ceremonies for the evening, remarked on what a fitting locale for the event as Black Hawk College was named for a Sauk warrior who lived from 1767 to 1831. He said without Regina Tsosie’s guidance, they would not have found Bill Quackenbush of the Ho-Chink Nation who led them to the others.
Robert Turner, who gave the prayer to start the event, indicated the displeasure the STOP group likely has for the state archaeologist’s concept of co-existence with the turbines. He said it would be like putting a McDonald’s restaurant in a cemetery and saying you would compensate for any gravestones that were damaged.
“It’s almost the same thing,” he said. “That’s cold.”
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