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Gov. Pritzker Signs Bills Expanding Protections for Native Americans in Illinois

Press Release - Friday, August 04, 2023

CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker signed three bills today offering increased protections for Native and Indigenous Illinoisans. HB3413, the Human Remains Protection Act, establishes procedures for encountering human remains or gravesites and returning remains to Native American Nations. SB1446 prohibits schools from banning students from wearing cultural regalia as graduation attire. HB1633 mandates instruction on Native American history in Illinois public schools.

"Today, we take another step forward in repairing generations of harm and building a brighter future for our state's Native American and Indigenous Peoples," said Governor JB Pritzker. "At its core, this legislation is about respect. Respect for those who came before us and those who will come after—and that is why we want to teach our children this history, to avoid the mistakes of the past and to instill that respect from an early age."

"As we are seeking new ways to continue to make Illinois inclusive and welcoming to all, our administration is committed to expanding protections for our Native and Indigenous Illinoisans - past, present, and future. Today's bill signing is a measure to address the generational injustice, while we extend our hand in support for our Native and Indigenous communities," said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. "Thanks to the compassionate leadership of Governor Pritzker and members of the General Assembly, and the voices of residents in Illinois, together we honor the history, contributions, and experiences of Indigenous people with honesty and dignity at the forefront."

HB3413 seeks to streamline and concentrate efforts to return known or newly discovered Native American remains and cultural artifacts to their nation of origin. Many Native remains and artifacts remain in museums across the country. This act, which amends the existing Human Remains Protection Act will coordinate with the Illinois State Museum and federally recognized tribes with ties to Illinois to determine tribal identity of the remains and be returned for appropriate burial. The bill also allows for creation of a cemetery for remains unable to be identified.

Illinois currently has the second largest collection of unrepatriated remains in the United States. The Illinois State Museum has committed to the largest repatriation effort in the state's history. Violators of this bill will be subject to pay restitution, which will be held in a fund to aid in reinternment or restoration. The law is effective immediately.

SB1446 protects the rights of Illinois students to wear accessories that reflect cultural, religious, or ethnic heritage at graduation ceremonies. The bill was proposed following an incident where Nimkii Curley, an Illinois high school senior, was forced to sit out his graduation ceremony after refusing to remove traditional Native regalia. The act protects not only Native American and Indigenous cultural attire, but anything worn that is associated with a student's protected characteristic as laid out under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The law is effective immediately.

HB1633 adds Native American history to the list of required curricula for public schools in Illinois. The law specifies that this includes teaching about the genocide and forced resettlement of Native Americans by settlers, alongside the history of tribes in the Midwest and nationwide. Governor Pritzker has previously signed laws mandating instruction on Asian American and LGBTQ+ history in Illinois schools.

"It is important that our children's learning experiences are formulated in an atmosphere that is both inclusive and equitable," said State Senator Suzy Glowiak Hilton (D-Western Springs). "These new laws will empower students to express their cultural identity and provide them with a full picture of how our nation was founded. We need to invigorate our classrooms and present different perspectives to give our children learning opportunities they haven't had before."

"Native American history is Illinois' history, from the awe-inspiring Cahokia mounds to the Illiniwek tribes encountered by French colonists to the tens of thousands of people of Native American ancestry who live in Illinois today," said State Rep Maurice West (D-Rockford). "We must understand the history and experience of Native Americans if we want to truly understand our home state, but too many students miss out on this important aspect of our nation's past and present. These laws will help preserve and promote the rich history of Native Americans in Illinois while ensuring students can freely honor their cultural, ethnic, or religious identity through their attire during their graduation ceremonies."

"I can't imagine how horrible I would feel if someone dug up the grave of my grandmother, stole a necklace she was buried with to be sold as a curiosity, and put her bones on display, but that's what we're talking about here," said State Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights). "Illinois' past and present are better because of the history and impacts of Native Americans. Reconciling the sins of our past means ensuring these remains are reburied with the honor and respect they deserve."

"We've longed for the day we can bring respect to our history and our ancestors the way they should've been respected centuries ago. Today means that can finally happen," said Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph "Zeke" Rupnick. "This new law puts Illinois on a path to free the remains of our ancestors so they can be buried with the dignity they always deserved."

"The new Human Remains Protection Act is just one step in our commitment to continue to elevate Indigenous voices at the Illinois State Museum," said Jenn Edginton, interim director of the Illinois State Museum. "Native people have always been on the land on which we stand. Their stories are the stories of Illinois. The Illinois State Museum and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are committed to continuing to ensure Native stories are heard and that we continue to collaborate with them."

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