Tribal officers and leaders from several Native American tribes gathered at Black Hawk East College Wednesday evening in to speak about a proposed wind farm and its impact on the Great Sauk Trail.
Over 75 area residents turned out to view the presentation sponsored by the BHE History and Political Science Department and the Sauk Trail Organization for Preservation (STOPII). At issue is whether a proposed wind farm should be built on or near Sauk Trail lands.
Dick Wells acted as the emcee for the evening and said the presentation was less about the proposed wind farm and more about education, but the subject of the wind farm was broached by several of the speakers at the event.
In his opening remarks, Wells disclosed that he was a property owner on the Sauk Trail in Bureau County. The Great Sauk trail in Henry and Bureau counties, he described, is divided by Illinois Route 78, and is now called West State Road and East State Road. “It runs along the top of an ancient glacial moraines (that is) now the western Illinois watershed,” he said.
Wells also gave a brief history of the Great Sauk Trail, referring to it as an ancient superhighway used by prehistoric mastodons, then buffalo and early Native Americans. In the 1850s, the trail was even part of the Underground Railroad, he said, explaining how thousands of runaway slaves found freedom in Canada.
The opening prayer was offered by Robert Turner, a member of the Fox Nation from the Southern Indiana and Shelbyville, Kentucky area. His grandmother-great, as he referred to her, married a white man and went on to enroll in school, and eventually became a talented seamstress.
In his prayer, Turner spoke of the “land that we feel the need to protect.”
Other speakers for the evening included Bill Quackenbush, the tribal historic officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation; Lester Randall, tribal chairman and historic officer for the Kickapoo Nation; and Diane Hunter, tribal historic officer for the Miami Nation.
Quackenbush is from Wisconsin and a member of the Ho-Chunk. The tribe is over 7,000 strong. He traveled to Henry County because he thought it was important to gather with other tribes in order to educate the public about this issue. “You should have concern about cultural resources potentially affected,” he said. “We see it day in and day out, proposed projects that want to make our infrastructure stronger.”
Quackenbush said it’s important to determine if a project is worth disturbing resources. He said here is a balance in trying to handle the needs of all of us.
“Decisions have to be made,” he said. “Ultimately it will be made by the community.“
Randall, tribal leader for the Kickapoo Nation, introduced himself in his native language before describing how hundreds of years ago the Kickapoo lived, hunted and trapped in Illinois. Today, the Kickapoo tribe resides on a 19,200 acre reservation in Brown County, Kansas, but members remember their Illinois history, including their ancestor’s presence in Fulton, McLean and Vermillion counties.
Randall stressed the importance of keeping the past alive. “Don’t think history is not important. Don’t think cultural preservation is not important, and don’t forget,” he said, “who was here first.”
The Miami Tribe was also represented at the presentation. Hunter presented a history of Myaamiaki: A living people. The Miami tribe used the Great Sauk Trail, and came this way from Indiana for both hunting and trade. The tribe has a rich history in Illinois, including the Grand Village, where as many as 20,000 Native Americans lived. It was located in the Starved Rock area. Hunter said the Great Sauk Trail went by the village as well.
Hunter said the Miami Tribe is working hard to preserve and revitalize its culture, even teaching the language to their children.
“We are a thriving people,” she said. “We have this history and it’s very important to us. We are not a people of the past. We are a living people with a past.”