For thousands of years, the Midwest region has been home to indigenous peoples, many of whose descendants belong to Indian “tribes” today. Tribal groups came into being when the U. S. began to negotiate treaties with Native peoples in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Treaties were signed between “sovereign nations,” that is, the United States and particular Native groups the U. S. considered tribes. Tribal states continue to be recognized by Congress and the Supreme Court.
The people in the tribal communities also belonged to “ethnic groups,” whose history can be traced back to before Europeans arrived. Members of ethnic groups shared a common language, ideas about their homeland and their history, and social customs. When, over time, members of ethnic groups settled in different areas and experienced different local histories, they developed local variants of ethnicity. In the Midwest, in some cases, ethnic identity conflates with tribal status. The Menominee are both a tribe and an ethnic group. On the other hand, there are several tribes the members of which share a localized sense of history and also culturally affiliate with a larger ethnic group. Each of the nineteen Ojibwa tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan has a localized sense of identity and a cultural affiliation with the large ethnic group or Nation of Ojibwa people (Anishinabe).
These groups occupied the Midwest before and after European arrival there: Dakota, Fox, Illinois, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, Ojibwa (Chippewa), Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Winnebago (Ho-Chunk), Wyandot.
As members of ethnic groups and, more recently, as tribal members, indigenous people played an important role in the history of the Midwest as, over time, they adapted to new circumstances yet found ways to survive as culturally distinct communities.
The “Eras” section explores the history of ethnic groups and tribes in the Midwest. “Indian Perspectives” discusses Native reflections on their history, and the “How We Know” section examines some of the methods scholars currently use to understand Indian history.