ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Monday was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, so the Rockford Public Library invited families to learn more about Native Americans.
Library organizers and a Native writer and speaker spoke about the significance of the holiday. Kim Sigafus-McIver said that she is originally from White Earth Reservation located in the northwest corner of Minnesota.
She moved to Freeport 10 years ago, and she said that there did not seem to be a whole lot of Native presence at that time, but it has since picked up. She gave a history lesson Monday on Indigenous People in the Rockford area.
The presentation came with cultural visuals and a dreamcatcher craft. Sigafus-McIver said that Native people were nomadic and often traded within surrounding states, like Wisconsin and Iowa.
“They traveled a lot by foot,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of horse travel, not in the beginning, because horses were not something we had here. That was mostly out west, so we just didn’t have that, but we had canoes and we have a lot of water in the Midwest. That is how we got from one place to another.”
Being a Native has a different meaning now to Sigafus-McIver than it used to. She said that decades ago, people did not tell others that they were Native American.
“You couldn’t get a job, you couldn’t get a place to live, you were treated with a lot of racial bias,” Sigafus-McIver said. “It wasn’t until maybe the 90s into the 2000s, and even the last 20 years, that people are excited to have some Native blood.”
Kathryn Gorzek is an assistant librarian with RPL’s youth services. She hopes that respecting the history of the people that came here before will allow for a better relationship with current residents.
“One of our missions at the Rockford Public Library is to increase diversity and inclusion of our members using the library and the resources that we provide,” Gorzek said. “So, we wanted to kind of tap into that goal and amplify some of the more marginalized voices that don’t always get heard in our community.”
Illinois does not have a federally recognized reservation. Sigafus-McIver said that she shares her culture to help get rid of myths.