The Illinois Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Illiniwek or Illini, was a group of 12–13 Native American tribes in the upper Mississippi River valley of North America.
The tribes were the following:
At the time of European contact in the 17th century, they were believed to number over 10,000 people. Most of the Illinois people spoke various dialects of the Miami-Illinois language, one of the Algonquian languages family, with the known exception of the Siouan-speaking Michigamea.
They occupied a broad inverted triangle from modern-day Iowa to near the shores of Lake Michigan in modern Chicago south to modern Arkansas.
By the mid-18th century, only five principal tribes remained: the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa.
Illinois Confederacy Facts: History
When French explorers first journeyed to the region from Canada in the 17th century, they found the area inhabited by a vigorous, populous, Algonquian-speaking nation. What we know today about the Illinois people is based on the historical account Jesuit Relations, written by French Jesuits.
The missionaries who lived among the various native nations wrote the Relations and sent the reports back to their superiors in France.
One name for an Illinois Confederation tribe, the Cahokia, was used as a name for a French settlement, now Cahokia, Illinois, near what is now called the Cahokia Mounds, the remains of a large pre-Columbian city.
However, it is currently unknown whether the Illinois Confederation peoples, including the Cahokia, have any relationship to the earlier native builders of the Mounds civilization.
In the 17th century, the Illinois people suffered from Eurasian disease and the expansion of the Iroquois. Like all Native American tribes, they lacked the immunization required to withstand the diseases spread by European settlers.
Disease wiped out much of their populations. Compounding their problems was the Iroquois expansion. The Iroquois had begun expanding into new regions to look for better hunting regions.
They expanded around the Great Lake region and pushed the Illinois people back further. Many of the remaining Illinois migrated west into modern Kansas.
There are remnants of Illinois that exist today in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, within the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma.