Native Americans Strive to Maintain Their Culture, Heritage

Article excerpt

Byline: J. Hope Babowice

You wanted to know

Roger Feicht, 11, a sixth-grader at Highland School in Libertyville, wanted to know:

What are some names of North American Indians and what are their cultures?

"What are some names of North American Indians and what are their cultures?"

That's what Roger Feicht, 11, a sixth-grader at Highland School in Libertyville, wants to know.

Roger's question is timely since November is National Indian Heritage month as proclaimed by President Clinton two years ago.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 557 Native American tribes and Alaska Native groups in the U.S. that include more than 1 million people who speak 250 different languages. Each tribe has its own culture and history. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence in the form of arrowheads that proves Indians lived in North America as long as 35,000 years ago. They agree that these first Americans came from Asia across the Bering Strait between what is now Russia and Alaska.

Some familiar names of Native American tribes that once lived around the Great Lakes are Potowatomi, Menominee, Odawa (also known as Ottawa), Illinois and Winnebago. The 1833 Treaty of Chicago required that all Native Americans living in the Chicago area move to land west of the Mississippi River.

Forced relocation of Native Americans certainly made it difficult for the tribes to retain their cultural heritage. Religious practice was discouraged and native languages were outlawed. Yet the Native Americans of today have clung to their individual identity, resurrecting their customs, practices and beliefs and incorporating them into their daily lives.

It wasn't until 1960 that the U.S. government began to seriously take note of the needs of the Native American people. In 1968, they were incorporated into the Civil Rights Bill.

Now, the U.S. government works with Native Americans on reservations and the governments of Native American nations to assist in economic development, health and educational services.

About 900,000 Native Americans live on or near reservations. Several tribes now have their own nations, including the Menominee of Wisconsin and Odawa of Michigan. These nations work like independent countries and have industries that support their people. …