Illinois State Museum Reaches Out to Native Tribes with New Leadership Role


The Illinois State Museum seeks to improve its relationship with Native tribes.

Heather Miller is the museum’s first director of tribal relations. She previously served as executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago. She is also a member of the Wyandotte Nation.

Miller said the museum is reviewing its collections to comply with federal Native American burial and repatriation law.

“What that means is that for the things that we have in collections, like the bodies of some of our ancestors, some of our relatives, some of these really special items that they were buried with, we have in collections,” she added. said. “Well, we have to make sure that we do the right thing for those tribes who can claim them and have a say in how they should be treated.”

This may include returning requested items to tribes or reinterring remains in the ground. She also said it was important to update museum exhibits on Indigenous peoples to give tribes a greater voice.

“We want to make sure their voices are heard, their knowledge is respected, and we make sure they are included in whatever part of the story that defines us all as Illinoisans, but especially those first people who, you know, really own and claim this land,” she said.

Miller said this was especially important because Illinois does not have any federally recognized tribes with land in Illinois today. It’s a legacy of colonization and genocide experienced by Indigenous peoples, Miller said.

“The way we identify as Indigenous people is that we have a relationship with this land. So for many of us as Indigenous people our languages ​​are defined by this land, which means our Place names can be seen in our languages. They define our locations, they define our relationship with plants and animals. It’s just very different from English,” she said.

She said allowing Indigenous people to share their culture and knowledge about the land ultimately builds understanding and respect among the people who live here now.

At sites like the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown, Miller said she would also like to invite tribes to hold ceremonies and events — and help tell the stories of the mounds.

“I think it’s a really interesting time to be able to do this work. And rather than seeing it as something scary or hard to understand, I think it’s just something new, something unique and exciting, because we’re going to have such a richer version of our history,” she said. “We’re going to have a better story about how this land can be used and how we can interact with it. .”

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