By Susan Johnson
Come to Beattie Park in the 400 block of North Main Street, Rockford, Saturday for the 20th Annual Honor the Mounds Gathering. The all-day event is free and open to the public.
Tribes from all over the country will come to celebrate their heritage with songs, dances, demonstration of Native culture, crafts and include a program about the history of the mounds. The Native American Awareness Committee will host this event.
Beattie Park and its surroundings were the original homestead of the Beattie family from 1845 to 1921. They kept the land available for Native Americans to use for their culture and ceremonies, which arrangement continued until the mid-1950s. The Beattie family specified that the mounds area should be preserved in a natural state.
After one of the sisters died in 1921, the land was donated to the Rockford Park District with the stipulation that the mounds and trees be preserved. The downtown park is still a place where people can relax, contemplate nature, and watch the river.
Local citizen David Van Pernis was instrumental in helping to preserve the property. Now the Rockford Park District and the Native American Awareness Committee work in partnership to maintain the park with the help of many valuable volunteers.
Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History also has information about the mounds and Native culture, including displays of artifacts and interactive events. The museum hosts a living history event where visitors can interact with volunteers.
Rockford’s oldest historical site
The various styles of mounds in Beattie Park date from the Late Woodland Period known as the Effigy Mound Period. This was a span of time from approximately 300 to 1100 A.D. and influenced the Upper Mississippi River Valley in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. During this time, various Native cultures contributed to the building of effigy mounds. Those in Beattie Park date back from the early part of 700 to 1100 A.D., when most of the effigy mounds were built. The effigy mound building tradition dates back to as early as 300 A.D..and spans the entire period until the mid-17th century, when the first European settlements were begun in North America.
The grouping in Beattie consists of three conical mounds, a linear mound, an earthen embankment and one effigy mound of a turtle. Through the years, some of the mounds in the immediate area were damaged or destroyed, including one when the Riverfront Museum Park constructed its parking lot on North Main Street, and the high rise was built beside Beattie Park. The bird effigy was damaged and is in the yard of a private residence on Indian Terrace.
Most mound groupings were located along waterways like the ones in Beattie Park. They are found south of the conifer hardwood forests and stretch from the Upper Mississippi Valley to Lake Michigan. They are mostly found north of the southern edge of the prairie, and most times along the waterways of northern Illinois, large parts of Wisconsin, and the northern Mississippi Valley.
Schedule of events
The day will begin with lighting of the sacred fire and prayer by Terry “Standing Buffalo” Reynolds (Lakota). The program will officially begin at 10 a.m. with an introduction to visitors. Opening prayers will be given by Lakota elder Terry Reynolds. See the Presentation of Colors at 10:30 a.m. and Grand Entries to follow. Rudy Valajo and his daughter Sheryl (Apache) will be the head male and female dancers this year.
Thunder Ruthen and Doug Schandelmeier will be the firekeepers. They will keep the sage burning throughout the day and will be available to answer questions from visitors.
Scheduled demonstrations throughout the day include: Cari Szczesniak (finger weaving); Lora Sobey (corn blossom drum); P.A. Tom (living history); Richard Hamilton (arrow/knife knapping); Corey Swanborg (Winnebago flute making); Black Hawk Archery (bow and arrow making); and Len Badillo, playing Native flute and storytelling. Music will be provided by Spirit of the Rainbow Singers (Cherokee).
A presentation of wild animal rehabilitation will be given by Karen Herdklotz of “Hoo” Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
At 3 p.m., Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, will present a program about the Rock River Trail Initiative, which he founded, and explain the history of the Woodland Mounds. Other attractions include the Tiny Tots Dance and giveaway, a Children’s Dance and giveaway of school supplies, as well as a special ceremony/acknowledgment for veterans. Intertribal dancing will be held throughout the day.
This event is presented by the Native American Awareness Committee. Partners and donors are the Rockford Park District, The Rock River Times and Burpee Museum of Natural History. Along with the demonstrations, displays and storytelling, visitors are invited to check out vendors such as Turtle Island Gifts, the Dream Catcher booth, and the Turtle on the Rock food booth. People are invited to sample Native American food such as fry bread and Indian tacos, as well as grilled corn, burgers and hot dogs. Drawings will be held for Native American arts, crafts, and other items beginning at 11 a.m. and every hour thereafter. A 50/50 raffle for cash will be held. Come on out to this free, family-friendly event in historic Beattie Park and expect to have fun.