Monday, November 30, 2009

Chicago's Native American Origins

This month the University of Chicago and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs celebrates Native American Heritage. As part of the celebration, each week the OMSA Blog featured a notable Native American and other information about the tribal communities. This week we have provided some information on the Native roots of our home, Chicago.

Chicago’s Native American Origins

At the beginning the Chicago area was inhabited by a number of Algonquian peoples, including the Mascoutens and Miamis. Trade links and seasonal hunting migrations linked these peoples with their neighbours, the Potawatomis to the east, Fox to the north, and the Illinois to the southwest. The name "Chicago" is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (" Wild Onion"), named for the plants common along the Chicago River, and this has nothing to do with Chief Chicagou of the Michigamea people.

Chicago's location at a short, swampy portage between the Chicago River (flowing originally into the Great Lakes) and the Des Plaines River (flowing into the Mississippi), attracted the attention of many French explorers travelling in the area, such as Louis Jolliet and Henri Joutel, who felt that the area had a great potential as a transportation hub. In 1696, French Jesuits built the Mission of the Guardian Angel to Christianize the local Wea and Miami people. French and allied use of the Chicago portage was mostly abandoned during the 1720s because of continual raiding during the Fox Wars.

During the mid 1700s, the Chicago area was inhabited primarily by Potawatomis, who took the place of the Miami and Sauk and Fox who had previously controlled the area.

The first non-native permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian of African and French descent, who settled on the Chicago River in the 1770s and married a local Potawatomi woman. In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, the area of Chicago was ceded by the Native Americans in the Treaty of Greenville to the United States for a military post. In 1803, Fort Dearborn was built and remained in use until 1837, after being rebuilt in 1818. In 1812 it had been destroyed in the Fort Dearborn massacre during the War of 1812. The Potawatomi ceded the land to the United States in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis.