Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois University recently hosted a group of twelve from two Shawnee Tribes as part of a special program called More Kids in the Woods.
The week-long visit to Shawnee National Forest was an opportunity for the youth to learn about, explore and form a connection with the wild areas that were a portion of their ancestral lands.
“We hope that through these experiences the kids will forge a link to their history and heritage,” said Mary McCorvie, who coordinated the program. “It’s also helping establish a regional connection, something the three federally-recognized Shawnee Tribes have wanted for some time — a way for their children to link with the past.”
The young participants worked on an archaeological excavation along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, canoed the Cache River and snorkeled the places that once supported the Shawnee peoples. At each place, they learned about the area’s ecology and history of the region as well as its inhabitants.
“Coming to the Shawnee opened my eyes to what we had and how much we lost,” said camper Mykal Bribois. “But now we can come back and make a difference.”
Brianna Barnes agreed, saying, “It makes me feel like we have a responsibility for the land, that we’re still stewards of this land.”
More Kids in the Woods was made possible through a grant from the Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service. This is the third year the forest has hosted youth from federally-recognized tribes. The goal of the program is to introduce tribal youth from central and northeastern Oklahoma to lands once used by their ancestors.
A partnership with Southern Illinois University’s Center for Archaeological Investigations and Touch of Nature Environmental Center further enhances the participants’ experience in southern Illinois. While here, the group stays in cabins at Touch of Nature surrounded by the natural beauty of the area. Touch of Nature also provided evening programs and activities led by Staffer Steve Gariepy, including moonlight canoeing, listening to night sounds and making Ojo de Dios (God’s Eye) camp craft.
The various Shawnee Tribes are about six generations removed from this region, and many tribal members think of Oklahoma as home, not realizing southern Illinois is an area once included in their original homelands. Shawnee Indians once ranged across southern Illinois, from Shawneetown to Fort Massac, with settlements at the mouths of the Saline River and camps on the Cache River near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Shawnee and other Eastern Woodland tribes — such as the Miami, the Delaware, the Potawatomie, the Kickapoo and the Illini — were removed from their homelands by the 1830s. They settled first in Kansas before being forced southward into Oklahoma where they remain today.
About Shawnee National Forest
Administered by the USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests nationwide. As the only national forest in Illinois, the Shawnee offers numerous avenues for connecting with the natural world through its 280,000 acres of varied landscape. Whether your interests lie more in outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking or camping, or include learning about the unique natural and cultural heritage of southern Illinois, the fields, forests and streams of the Shawnee welcome you. To discover more about the Shawnee National Forest, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/shawnee. Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/shawneenf and Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/shawneenatlforest.
The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes 20 states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/R9.
The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us.