Indigenous Peoples' Day honors America's firsts

SOUTH BELOIT, Ill (WIFR) -- Columbus Day is well-known nationally as a time to celebrate the start of America. Indigenous Peoples' Day falls on the same day to honor those native to the land.

Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration

"Natives have gone through a lot," says Kim Sigafus, an Ojibwa Elder that now lives in Freeport. "We're a culture, not the only culture, but a culture that has gone through quite a bit."

Sigafus is part of a series "We Once Lived Here" at the Nature of the Confluence in South Beloit. Sunday she shared the Native American history to a group of 80 people.

"We've been having programs that highlight their lives here, and respecting and honoring the people that lived here before, and the Native American Indians of modern day today," says Therese Oldenburg, an executive at the Confluence.

"I love to pass information along that people might not know about, and I love hearing from people too, because a lot times they'll tell me things that I don't know," says Sigafus. "It's an exchange of information and culture that I enjoy."

There are no federally recognized tribes in Illinois, but there are 65,000 natives still living in the Chicagoland area. Sigafus says she is happy the indigenous people are being recognized after all these years.

"There's an old saying among the natives that the native people welcomed Columbus to the United States," she jokes. "So I think there probably was a push for their own day."