The Cahokia Mounds: Telling the Story Pre-Contact and After the Europeans Came

This week’s blog was written by Skyla B., an Ursids alumni. Skyla is Wolf Clan from Cherokee Nation. She attended the Ursids field school because she was interested in learning more about bears. While Skyla was at WLA, she learned so much about conservation and other things she didn’t even knew existed! Her favorite parts were learning about plants, being able to understand more about her own Cherokee heritage, and helping other realize why Indigenous perspectives are so important in everything we do. Skyla would like to use her opportunity as a blog writer to share Cherokee history, heritage, and culture so others can appreciate why it has a place in wildlife conservation.

Osiyo, nigad! On my trip home from the WLA Ursids field school, I went to Cahokia Mounds with Cherokee National Treasure Robert Lewis, WLA Ambassador Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, and my Aunt Chelle. They really wanted to take me there to learn more about my own Cherokee culture and to see and experience this important place that many people don’t even know exist.

From left to right, WLA Ambassador Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, Cherokee National Treasure Robert Lewis, me, and Aunt Chelle are standing in front of Monks Mound.

The Cahokia Mounds were built by Mississippian Mound Builders. We don’t know exactly when, but we know they flourished between CE 1000 and 1350. When they were built, the smaller ones were used for burials, and the larger ones were used for ceremonies. Located across from the Mississippi River and what is now St. Louis, the Cahokia Mounds were larger than the size of London around the same time period!

A burial mound where over 300 women are buried. Not a lot is known about the women, but there are other burial areas that are just for men. The wildflowers surrounding the mound seem like a perfect way to to remember the people there.
A sign describing the Cahokia Mounds. One of the things I noticed was that the signs needed to be updated with newer research that has been found. For example, we know that the Indigenous people were still there when the French came, but the signs don’t say that. It’s important to update information when we learn new things.

People lived in the entire region and being located by such an important waterway made it easier to trade, travel, irrigate land for crops. It also gives places to fish, trap, and access clean water for drinking. In the 1600s, French traders and missionaries found the Cahokia Mounds. Many people still say the Mounds were abandoned by then, but scientists have shown through soil and fecal samples that Indigenous peoples were still living there. Maybe that story is told so it doesn’t make people think the French took the land, which they did. In fact, today, the largest mound is called ‘Monks Mound’ because it was turned into a monastery for the French priests and the sacred parts for the Indigenous were destroyed. The French changed the landscape by building their own mounds and other areas.

Lorelei and I are sitting just outside Woodhenge at the Cahokia Mounds. Woodhenge is like Stonehenge and acts like a natural calendar to mark the solstices.

On this trip, I learned that I’m connected to the Cahokia Mounds because my own Ancestors were Mississippian Mound builders. The Cherokee descended from these people who taught us so much about how to trade, protect themselves, farm, hunt, and create their own communities. If you are ever visiting St. Louis, the Cahokia Mounds are very close by, in Collinsville, IL and such an important part of our history. Have you ever visited the Cahokia Mounds?

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.