Chapter 1: The Circle Begins
The circle is an important symbol in Native American culture. It speaks to the cyclical processes of the natural world. It represents the elements of the sky, the change in seasons, and life’s journey from birth to death. The story of the Illinois watershed is itself a circle. Long ago, the land was lush with natural flowing waters, giving life to the ecosystem around it. The Indigenous tribes who called what is now known as northern Illinois home lived in harmony with the land, treating it as the living being it is, sustaining its life as the land sustained their own.
Indigenous peoples used the land to grow, hunt, and harvest fruit, vegetables, and game for nourishment, using the entirety of the plants and animals for food, clothing, and supplies, careful not to harm the environment that supplied them with their way of life. For centuries, they lived in the area and thrived as part of the ecosystem.
During the late 1600s, European settlers moved into the region, and through a series of battles and broken treaties, slowly drove the Native people from their homelands, resettling them time after time on less desirable lands with fewer natural resources. Over the next several centuries, the new inhabitants altered the landscape, taking from and abusing the land as populations grew and more resources were needed.
Rapid population growth led to expansive development of land. As more people came, agriculture and industry took precedence, and the natural balance of the land suffered. Pollution and flooding ravaged the watershed. Wildlife was forced to find new ecosystems as areas became uninhabitable for most species due to a lack of clean water and food sources.
Over the next week, we’ll detail the story of the Illinois watershed, from its long history of Indigenous people living in harmony with the land, to its period of rapid growth and damage following European settlement, to the impressive work being done to return it to its natural state. Going full circle, this is the story of the ravaging and revitalization of the Illinois watershed, in the following installments:
- Chapter 2: Land Unharmed
- Chapter 3: Altered Landscapes
- Chapter 4: A Return to Nature
- Chapter 5: Looking Forward