Advancing Health Equity (AHE) is committed to improving health care for all people. In order to do this work effectively, we must center the stories of communities and peoples that have been historically disenfranchised as a result of colonialism and racism. We believe that in order to do better than our past, we must learn from it. For that reason, we must understand the history behind the health disparities that exist today in order to identify the root causes of these disparities and to adequately begin to address them.
The AHE program is housed at the University of Chicago in Illinois. The word “Illinois” comes from the Illini word meaning “men” or “warriors.” The “ois” was later added by French explorers. The name “Chicago” comes from the Algonquian people, who called the river on which it sits “Checagou.” Although Chicago is home to many peoples from all over the world, it is critical to honor the history of the land on which the University sits. The Chicagoland area is located on several ancestral lands of indigenous tribes, such as the Council of the Three Fires–comprised of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations–as well as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, and Illinois Nations.
In order to meaningfully honor the history of this land, we must also acknowledge the human cost of being on this land today. The historic displacement and genocide of Native Peoples have destabilized Native communities and undermined their access to opportunity. As a result, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives (hereinafter “Native Peoples”) have long experienced lower health status than other populations in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Indian Health Service, “Native Peoples have been subjected to disproportionate disease burden as a result of inadequate education, poverty, and discrimination.” Native Peoples born today have a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the U.S. all races population. Native Peoples continue to die at higher rates than other populations in the U.S. in many categories, such as; chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.
Our intention in acknowledging the land we are on is to prompt conversation for disrupting and dismantling the lasting effects of colonialism. We understand that a Land Acknowledgment is not enough to remedy centuries of harm to Native Peoples, but we do believe it is a good place to start. We encourage others to take action beyond land acknowledgments and support local Indigenous communities.
You can refer to Native-Land.ca or NCAI.org for more information. Both sites have created regional data profiles of Tribal Nations throughout the United States, and provide a map identifying the different nation names. By clicking on parts of the map, you will be taken to a page specifically about that nation, language, or treaty, where you can view additional sources and continue learning.