Indians of the Midwest: An Archive of Endurance
The story of the Indians of the Midwest is one of endurance. Beyond the rich oral narratives that many tribes maintain, the Newberry houses an archive of materials that records and preserves aspects of the varied cultures and traditions of the indigenous nations of the region we have come to call the Midwest. Though the greater Midwest is also home to peoples of the Plains, this exhibition focuses on the largely Algonquian and Siouan cultural region of the Great Lakes. Native peoples of this region have long been at the cultural crossroads created by intertribal relations, the rise of the fur trade, colonialism, and finally Euro-American settlement. From the ascendancy of Cahokia, the largest indigenous urban center north of Mexico, in what is now central Illinois, to the struggles for American Indian civil rights in the mid-twentieth century, the Midwest remains an Indian space.
A bequest from one of the Newberry’s founding donors, Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927), made the library the custodian of one of the greatest collections of American Indian and Indigenous written and visual materials in the world. The materials displayed here span several centuries and represent important periods in the intertwined histories of American Indians and the European and American settlers who began to arrive in the region in the late seventeenth century. Some topics will be familiar, such as the fur trade and the early conflicts between Natives and settlers, whereas the treatment of and policies toward Indians during the so-called Progressive Era, termination and relocation, and modern urban Indian life may be less so. The archival materials presented reveal a story of change and continuity; a necessary paradox for American Indians.
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