ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – School was out and city offices were closed on Monday, as what was used to be known as Columbus Day is now celebrated as Indigenous People’s Day in Rockford.
Kids got the chance to learn about the rich history of Rockford’s various Indigenous tribes, and why it is important to recognize the day by honoring the people who came before.
The Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main Street, is home to the “First People Exhibit.” Maria Chiaberta-Mahan, the Director of Education at Burpee Museum, said that it is important to teach kids about an often overlooked part of history.
“At the museum, we really love celebrating the indigenous side to it, because it gives a life and a voice to the people who lived here beforehand, before Columbus came to America. There were already people living here,” Chiaberta-Mahan said, “We think it’s very important to honor them, their culture, their history and their lifestyle, since they did pave the way for everything else to happen here.”
Illinois has a rich history, with more than ten tribes calling the state home years ago.
“There were multiple different tribes that lived in the Illinois region. It was one that had a lot of travel throughout it, the Sauk and the Fox are the ones that are more prominent, and that’s what our exhibit here focuses on,” Chiaberta-Mahan said. “They can also see hunting tools, pottery, basketry, and we also have a recreation of a dugout canoe as well.”
Chiaberta-Mahan said that the impact Indigenous people have on our daily lives still lives on.
“Tribes are still alive today, these nations still exist and their people still exist, so they are continually changing along with the world around them as well,” Chiaberta-Mahan said.
Bridget Murphy and her 8-year-old son Oscar spent the day at the exhibit. She said that she is glad her son is learning not just about one person, but about all the people that came before him.
“Indigenous People’s Day is not just about the past, it’s about the future too,” Murphy said. “I’m very glad that when he’s growing up, it’s not called Columbus day anymore.”
The “First People’s Exhibit” is a permanent exhibit at the museum, and can be checked out at any time.