(The Center Square) – Three bills signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker safeguard Native American heritage in Illinois.
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick said passage of the three bills will benefit the 35,000 people of Native American heritage who live in Illinois.
House Bill 3413, sponsored by State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, amends the Human Remains Protection Act to require the Illinois State Museum and other institutions to work with federally recognized tribes to rebury Native American bones and artifacts. Many Native American remains were dug up many years ago by the Department of Transportation during highway and road construction.
“The remains of thousands of our ancestors have been in the hands of institutions for centuries,” Rupnick said. As more remains continue to be discovered, the new protections will ensure that gravesites will be treated with proper respect.
At Dixon Mounds Museum near Lewiston, a coalition of more than two dozen tribes with ancestral lands in Illinois, is working with archeologists to rebury 1,100 remains.
“This new law will bring respect and honor back to our ancestors,” Rupnick said.
In 1849, Rupnick’s great-grandfather (4 generations removed) left Illinois when 1,280 acres of Prairie Band Potawatomi land near the village of Shabbona in southern DeKalb County was illegally seized by the government and auctioned off.
As a child, Rupnick, like thousands of Native American children across the country, was taken from his parents and forced to attend a boarding school for Native American children in Utah. Indian boarding schools were designed to assimilate native children into mainstream American culture by forbidding them to speak their native languages or learn about their history.
A second bill signed by the governor – HB1633, sponsored by state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, – makes Native American history part of the standard public school curriculum in Illinois.
“Many cities, rivers and towns across Illinois have Native American names, but the history has been wiped out,” Rupnick said. “Illinois was our homeland for thousands of years. Now students will learn about our presence,” Rupnick said.
A third bill – SB1446 sponsored by state Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, D-Western Springs, – protects the rights of Illinois students to wear accessories that reflect cultural, religious, or ethnic heritage at graduation ceremonies. Nimkii Curley, a Native American high school senior, was forced to sit out his graduation ceremony because he wanted to wear an eagle feather and beads on his graduation cap.