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Honoring the area’s original inhabitants

"We Are Still Here" hangs in the foyer of Macomb City Hall's main entrance.
Peggy Fontenot
courtesy photo
"We Are Still Here" hangs in the foyer of Macomb City Hall's main entrance.

A piece of art in Macomb City Hall honors the legacy of the people who first called this area home.

Artist Peggy Fontenot, who is Potawatomi, said she is honored and excited to have her photograph hanging in the foyer of city hall’s main entrance.

“I really appreciate that Macomb has recognized the first people and acknowledged them and acknowledged the land,” Fontenot said.

The photograph is called We Are Still Here. It pictures natives of various ages and from several tribes. They wear both traditional and contemporary clothing.

Fontenot said the elders represent those who originally occupied the land. The mother and father in the photo are current guardians of the land, and the children represent our future.

“This shows all the different generations and that we’re still here. We’re connected to natives and non-natives,” Fontenot said.

“(The idea) just came to me one day and I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try to execute this.’”

Fontenot lives in California but said she has connections to western Illinois – her grandmother was born in Jacksonville and her great-grandfather lived in Quincy.

The organization One Human Family-Macomb commissioned the piece.

The non-profit group’s Sarah Shoper Salazar said the photo complements the city’s Land Acknowledgement Statement, which recognizes the area was inhabited by others before Europeans arrived. She hoped the statement will be read at events in the community.

Macomb’s Land Acknowledgement Statement

We meet here at [City Hall] in Macomb, Illinois, in the West-Central region of what you know as the State of Illinois. Please join me in taking some time to remember and acknowledge the legacy of this land and the many people who first called it home.

In the 1820s, when the first European settlers arrived in the area around what is now the City of Macomb, they noted evidence of a seasonal hunting camp, just west of the University, which is memorialized by the name “Wigwam Hollow Road.” The Illinois nation which comprised the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa tribes, and the Dakota were present in Western Illinois when European explorers first arrived. The Delaware, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and Wyandot tribes were displaced from out east by the westward expansion of European settlers, only to later be forcibly removed when this region was designated a Military Tract and parceled out to veterans of the War of 1812.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this amazing land and the bountiful resources that it provides. Let’s give thanks that, through their shared experiences and their stories, the ancestors nurtured values prioritizing care for the waters and the earth, for the plants and the animals, and toward building alliances and harmony among all people. Let’s remember their contributions, and try to carry that legacy forward, here in this place, and in the world beyond.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story. TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.