October 20, 2021

Native American history alive in Lake County

In backyards, parks, farmland and along the sides of highways all over Lake County are traces of the Native American history made more than 2,000 years ago. Invisible to the untrained eye, small hills could be mounds made by ancient native people, and tree branches could have pointed the way to trails, said Steve Young, Lake County’s Native American history expert.

Young, of Antioch, has discovered almost 400 native mounds in Lake County and is an honorary member of two native tribes. He was given the name Kanonozo by the Potowatomi, which means ‘blessed by the eagle.”

When Young, of Oglala Lakota ancestry, was growing up on a farm east of Antioch, his father had a box full of arrowheads he'd found while working the farm. Little Young asked his dad if he could have some arrowheads to make bows and arrows for his cowboys-and-indian games. His father told him no, because someone could get hurt, but said he could go look for his own arrowheads if he wanted them. "I looked for a month and a half and never found one," Young said.
But, one day while he was out searching for arrowheads, he discovered an eagle eating a rabbit. "I stood still as a stone until the eagle was done with the rabbit, screeched and flew circling over me." At the end of his walk that day, he found an arrowhead at his feet. This began Young's lifelong tendency to stumble upon native history.

Burial mounds

As he gave a tour of some of the mounds he's found in Lake County, Young said they were usually made with baskets of dirt. "You can usually see pits [in the land]where they borrowed the dirt from," Young said. He pointed to mounds in Antioch, Round Lake, Fox Lake and Spring Grove.
Near Wooster Lake in Ingleside is a park with many mounds. "Mounds were built close to the village or an important campsite about 2,000 years ago," he said. "These were built by Adena and Hopewell tribes, mound builders. About 50 to 60 people would make a mound in about two days. Big mounds could take up to a year or more."

Mounds could be built marking the equinox, for a ceremony or for a special deity, Young said.
Although many mounds look like they could just be part of the landscape, Young said some can be identified based on their location along known native trails. Also, mounds will not have large rocks or debris on them.

It’s a federal law that you can’t disturb a burial ground or structure built for religious ceremony, Young said. He added that fewer than 2 percent of mounds contain anything but dirt. Rarely, a person of importance such as a chief was buried in a mound. Anyone approaching a mound should approach it with the respect of entering a church, Young said.

Many mounds have been destroyed by farmers, Young said, and he was able to get an area of mounds in Fox Lake protected by the State of Illinois. He said his only map of Lake County's mounds is in his head.

Trail marker trees
Young also identified trees that were once trail markers. "Almost every major road in Lake County was once a native trail," he said, listing Routes 132, 173, 59 and 83 as examples. "They had the best lay of the land."
Some trail marker trees have main branches bent at 90 degree angles. Natives would manipulate a tree branch pointing to a trail by attaching weight to it with a leather bag when the tree was sapling. If someone died during winter, they would be wrapped in animal skins and placed on the sharp-angled branch until the ground thawed for burial, he said.
Although mounds and trail markers can be found in many places, sacred medicine wheels are rarer, Young said. "Medicine wheels are places where [ancient natives] felt energy. They'd mark it with a circle of stones or trees, with a spirit stone in the middle."
Four of the stones are laid in the cardinal directions, and amazingly, most of the north stones are at true north when checked with a compass, Young said. At medicine wheels, sacred ceremonies such as weddings, rites of passage and major tribe decisions took place, he said.
At Shiloh Park in Zion, there is a circle of trees Young said is a sacred medicine wheel, where the Potawatomi tribe held major ceremonies, dating back 250 to 300 years. That's where the Potawatomi Pow Wow is held each August.

Zion Pow Wow
On Aug. 25, Young attended this year's Pow Wow. A main event at the inter-tribal celebration, with Cherokee, Potawatomi, Lakota and people of other tribal affiliations in attendance, is the Grand Entry when dancers and honored guests are presented. It begins with a color guard presenting the Eagle Stamp, "the first American flag," Young said.
"Next they honor the flag we have now. Then all the military veterans enter, followed by the grass dancers, fancy dancers and traditional women including the jingle dancers and shawl dancers."
Barbara Wolfbear, from Glen Ellyn, said she's been going to the Potawatomi Pow Wow in Shiloh Park for 19 years. Wolfbear wears a medicine dress, commonly known as a jingle dress, with 365 tin bells sewn on the skirt.
Wolfbear, who is Lakota, said the story behind the traditional dress is that "a man's granddaughter was ill, and in a dream he was told that to heal her he needed to find four young women to construct [a jingle dress]."

Wolfbear said her mother raised her to be traditional with her native heritage. “I rebelled against it when I was younger, but I came to realize it’s pretty awesome,” she said.

J.J. Kent, a Native American traditional flute player, travels the country performing at events and speaking publicly to help fight stereotypes that all native people are the same. Kent, who is Lakota, grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. At the Potawatomi Pow Wow, he was living out of his home and store, a large teepee that acts as his mobile home wherever he travels.
Kent said last year, he went to South America to meet with tribal leaders there about the problems of preserving their culture. "We shared a lot more in common than I thought," Kent said. "The hardest thing is to preserve ceremonial ways and languages. The younger generation don't have the interest in preserving them.

“Nowadays teens on reservations are finding themselves hopeless and in poverty. The suicide rate for native teens is four times the national average. But I believe our ancient spiritual ways of meditation are still as powerful as they were 3,000 years ago and can be relied upon to help us cope in the modern world,” Kent said.

Kent said the purpose of Pow Wows is the opposite of ceremonies. “Ceremonies are very serious. This is a carnival atmosphere to help us stay grounded. Ceremonies give us a glimpse of the other side and we petition the spiritual world to help sick people.” That glimpse of the spirit world is so beautiful, they need Pow Wows to remember why they should stay here where life is harder, he said.